MWR2R: Give migrant workers seeking redress right to work

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Wrongfully dismissed migrant workers have only a paper right to seek justice at the labour/industrial court as they are barred from working for the entire length of their case, points out Rani Rasiah.

The Migrant Workers Right to Redress Coalition (MWR2R) welcomes the passing of amendments to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants (ATIPSOM) Act by Parliament, and asks that the right to work be extended to migrant workers seeking justice at the labour or industrial court for wrongful dismissal.

A new provision in the Act allows rescued victims of human trafficking the freedom to move freely and to work once they have been granted a protection order by the magistrate. This is a huge improvement over the current punitive practice of confining them to refuges awaiting deportation.

Though the latest amendments are limited in scope, the right to work provision is of major significance. It is a recognition on the part of the government that victims deserve justice and not punishment. It spells a break from more than a decade of twisted logic among authorities that has resulted in the criminalising of victimised migrants, and allowed traffickers, smugglers, abetting agents, collaborating government officials, rapists, murderers, in a word, perpetrators, to go free.

There is little doubt over how this official stance of denying the right to redress has contributed in a big way to the trafficking industry. It has enabled traffickers to operate with impunity, subjecting thousands of migrants to modern day slavery and extreme and unspeakable cruelty.

It is very telling that the current Rohingya-Bangladeshi boat people problem came out into the open only after the accidental discovery of mass graves and not after any official complaint by trafficking victims. It is clear that the thousands of victims who survive the brutality of the human traffickers, choose to remain silent rather than speak up and be caught.

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The government’s refusal to recognise and grant the right to redress for migrant workers too continues to perpetuate their oppression and exploitation at the workplace. Wrongfully dismissed migrant workers have only a paper right to seek justice at the labour/industrial court as they are barred from working for the entire length of their case.

This places all migrant workers in an extremely vulnerable position. Many employers have no qualms about cheating or abusing their workers – not paying wages and overtime, stretching work hours, making unlawful salary deductions, etc – knowing that the workers won’t report them for fear the law will not protect migrant workers against victimisation.

The right to redress is a basic human right for all. The government should ensure the proper and meaningful implementation of the right to move freely and to work amendment for trafficking victims. It should immediately begin to formulate policy to enable an effective right to redress for all migrant workers.

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