On this International Migrants Day 2015 — which is observed on 18 December annually — the Malaysian Bar acknowledges and salutes the indefatigable spirit and courage of all migrant workers.
Malaysia hosts more than two million documented migrant workers, and a large number of undocumented migrants, estimated at between two million and five million persons.
The increasing number of migrant workers in Malaysia indicates that Malaysia remains a popular destination for migrant workers in the region who seek a better life for themselves and their families. It is indisputable that migrant workers have contributed tremendously to the development of our economy.
Over the years, the Bar Council — through its migrants, refugees and immigration affairs committee as well as its legal aid centres nationwide — has monitored, intervened and acted in many cases involving migrant workers.
Their complaints range from physical abuse, to withholding of passports, lack of healthcare and medical care, non-payment of wages, long working hours, no day off or rest days, and delays in release from detention — all of which are situations they all too commonly face. Although migrant workers are covered under the Employment Act 1955, ad hoc and arbitrary labour and immigration policies often hinder their access to justice.
In conjunction with International Migrants Day 2015, the Malaysian Bar calls upon the Malaysian Government to:
(1) Ensure full respect for the human rights and humane treatment of migrants, regardless of their migration status, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015;
(2) Implement the recommendations of the Bar Council’s “Developing a Comprehensive Policy Framework for Migrant Workers”, which include the following:
- Work closely with country-of-origin governments to fine-tune the recruitment system to ensure that migrant workers are recruited in a regular manner and are equipped with the necessary skills in tandem with their employment as well as knowledge on their labour rights and obligations;
- Shift the foreign employees’ levy payments to the employers (in line with the government’s ruling in 2009);
- Formulate proper housing guidelines to ensure that migrant workers have adequately sized, clean, hygienic and secure accommodation;
- Extend the coverage of the Employees’ Social Security Act 1969 to include migrant workers or amend the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952 to be in tandem with the benefits accorded under the Employees’ Social Security Act 1969; and
- Provide a comprehensive amnesty programme for all undocumented migrants currently in the country to be regularised.
The Malaysian Bar calls upon the government of Malaysia to accede to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 1990. This convention — which marked its 25th anniversary — recognises and guarantees respect for the dignity and rights of all migrants, regardless of their national origin or immigration status.
The Malaysian Bar reiterates that no person should be discriminated against, or deemed to be an ‘illegal’ person, due to his or her undocumented status. Malaysia must demonstrate a greater commitment to implementing effective measures to affirm and respect the human dignity of all migrant workers.
Steven Thiru is president of the Malaysian Bar.