Don’t burden migrant workers with levies

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File photo: sulekha.com

The government should remain firm on their financial obligations to workers under the Employer Mandatory Commitment, says Rani Rasiah.

The government’s announcement of the Employer Mandatory Commitment (EMC) has expectedly drawn howls of protest from employers’ organisations.

The MCA Youth has come out in support of employers.

Workers’ organisations like the MTUC and Cuepacs have commended the government on this initiative. The proposals of the EMC are also what civil society organisations have been advocating. They in fact are among the recommendations of a series of roundtables on labour migration that were organised recently by the Migrant Workers’ Right to Redress coalition (comprising Parti Sosialis Malaysia, Tenaganita, North South Initiative, Sahabat Wanita, the MTUC, the Archdiocese Office for Human Development and Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign).

The main features of the EMC as reported in the press are:

  • employers to assume responsibility for their migrant workers from the point of recruitment to their return home after their contract;
  • payment of the levies for migrant workers to be taken over by employers;
  • accommodation provided by employers to meet minimum standards set by the government;
  • a higher security deposit to be paid by employers hiring migrant workers.

The EMC is a good start to addressing the many seemingly unmanageable problems related to labour migration: human trafficking, forced labour, the massive number of undocumented workers, and rampant exploitative practices such as denying workers the minimum wage and overworking them.

Employers’ organisations are reacting strongly to the EMC, urging the government to reconsider. They say it will jeopardise their income as well as that of workers and the Malaysian public. They are dead set against taking over the payment of levies, saying that the country too will suffer by losing RM5bn per year in foreign remittances.

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Employers’ organisations should not try to be selfless with money that rightfully belongs to migrant workers.

PSM would like to strongly point out that the levy is a tax to deter employers from giving priority to migrant workers when hiring. So employers should pay the levy and not extract it from their workers, as they have been doing. The RM5bn is a part of the earnings of migrant workers which they may remit home; what belongs to them cannot rightly be used as a negotiating chip by employers.

Thus by raising the cost of migrant labour for the employers, they will be compelled to recruit more local workers and in the long run reduce the country’s dependence on migrant labour. We should not ignore the fact that migrant workers have already paid their share of the cost when they paid for their recruitment fees. The workers looking for a better life are forced to mortgage their land and their house and even take loans to pay for the recruitment and travelling costs.

Upon arriving in Malaysia, many complain that they were unaware of the levy deduction from their wages, as they were promised a minimum wage of RM1,000. Only after arriving at the factory do they realise that their actual take-home pay would be less after deducting the levies, hostel accommodation fees, electricity, etc,.

Thus, to repay their loans back home , most migrant workers force themselves to work 10 -12 hours a day, seven days a week to maximise their overtime earnings.

Making the migrant workers pay for their levy is inhumane and exploitative.

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Hopefully, there will be no reversal in the government’s plan on the implementation of the EMC. The government should not allow itself to once again give in to the intense lobbying of powerful business organisations.

The current labour situation is untenable: a Malaysian workforce that is not favoured because it has higher expectations than migrant workers, underemployment, exploitation of migrant labour, an undocumented migrant workforce that could be three times as large as the documented, etc.

Employers’ organisations have complained bitterly about the high cost of recruitment and called for the elimination of private agent involvement in the recruitment and management of migrant labour. The abolition of the profit motive and a government-to government mechanism can cut recruitment cost to a quarter of that incurred otherwise.

The government should implement the mechanism and a one stop centre to cut unnecessary costs for employers, but should remain firm on their financial obligations to workers under the EMC.

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