The Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress wishes to commend the human resources minister’s commitment to audit the recruitment fee of reimbursement of migrant workers in Top Gloves as reported in the media.
Whilst we appreciate the minister’s undertaking we also believe such an audit ought to encompass all other glove manufacturers, and by extension, all other employers who have been or who will continue to employ foreign workers.
The issue of bonded labour – be it exorbitant recruitment fees, excessive working hours or unacceptable housing conditions – in all probability, cuts across all sectors that employ foreign workers.
Thus, what ought to be the uniform audit portfolio is the adherence to, firstly, a zero migrant workers’ recruitment fee in all sectors.
Secondly, the Ministry of Human Resources’ audit should strive to compel all economic sectors that have been employing foreign workers to implement a schedule of reimbursement of recruitment fees in respect of the migrant workers.
On this score we are of the view that the ministry cannot be selective. If Top Gloves is to be audited there is no justification for the ministry to accord preferential treatment to all other spheres of economic activities.
As it stands there is a trust deficit when it comes to the government’s handling of the issue of bonded labour. It is obvious that the employers and the government only react when slapped with sanctions by countries importing Malaysian products as was the case of Top Gloves. Today it is the case of Top Gloves, but how will the government react if it spills over to other sectors?
We therefore earnestly hope the government and, paramountly, employers subscribe to internationally accepted labour standards in the employment of foreign workers. And, in the said equation the concerns of debt bondage ought to be eradicated at all costs.
In conclusion, we wish to cite the reported statement of Top Gloves chairman Lim Wee Chai where he stated: “Nobody was talking about this (recruitment fees) five or ten years ago.”
Our simple response to him is this: does a wrong not highlighted five or 10 years ago become morally and equitable right to justify the company’s employment of migrant workers who were enslaved to untold financial distress just on account of seeking employment with your company?
We believe that a sense of humanity will dictate that workers, regardless of nationality, should not be treated as mere commodities in the pursuit of profits and, in the process, become victims of uncaring recruitment agents who conscript them to a life of bondage labour.
We believe the zero-recruitment fee policy embraced by the company and others ought to have been implemented five, 10 years or even before! For the companies to adopt such a policy now is testimony to the relentless campaign by concerned individuals and organisations who have held on to the believe that bondage labour has to be eradicated.
K Veeriah is secretary of the Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress