Implement measures to uphold rights of migrants

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On International Migrants Day — which is observed on 18 December annually — the Malaysian Bar acknowledges the significant contribution of all migrant workers to the development of Malaysia and their home countries.

Malaysia hosts more than two million documented migrant workers as well as a large number of undocumented migrants, estimated at between two million and five million persons in the formal and informal sectors.

The Malaysian Bar commends the Malaysian government, specifically the Ministry of Human Resources, for its initiative in setting up the Independent Committee on Foreign Workers, which is tasked with coordinating and streamlining the overall policies and management in respect of migrant workers. We are pleased to note that two members of the Bar, M Ramachelvam, and Selvaraja Chinniah, have been appointed to the committee.

The Malaysian Bar also welcomes the announcement made by the ministry in May 2018 that the Employment Act 1955 would be amended to make it compulsory for employers to provide accommodation facilities for migrant workers. We urge the government to ensure that migrant workers have adequately sized, clean, hygienic and secure accommodation.

The ministry’s announcement in September 2018 that the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952 would be repealed and the Employees’ Social Security Act 1969 extended to give migrant workers protection under the Social Security Organisation (Socso) from 1 January 2019 is also timely.

The Malaysian Bar applauds the government’s move in joining 180 other nations of the United Nations General Assembly to adopt, on 17 December 2018, the Global Compact on Refugees. We call on the government to take the lead in implementing the provisions of this compact to address refugee-related issues in the country, especially in providing work rights, education for refugee children, as well as better and affordable healthcare for refugees.

We also look forward to Malaysia and other countries in the region committing to sharing the responsibility of addressing issues pertaining to the Rohingya.

We note the participation of Malaysia at the Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration held on 10-11 December 2018. We urge the government to take a proactive and positive approach on this compact, to ensure the rights of migrant workers in Malaysia are upheld.

The Malaysian Bar also calls upon the government to:

  • implement the recommendations of the Bar Council’s proposal on Developing a Comprehensive Policy Framework for Migrant Workers, which includes:
    • working 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 the employment, as well as knowledge on their labour rights and obligations;
    • extending the services of the government’s Legal Aid Department (Jabatan Bantuan Guaman) and National Legal Aid Foundation (Yayasan Bantuan Guaman Kebangsaan) to migrants and refugees in Malaysia; and
    • providing a comprehensive amnesty programme to allow all undocumented migrants currently in the country to be regularised.
  • 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
  • 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 recognises and guarantees respect for the dignity and rights of all migrants, regardless of their national origin or immigration status.

George Varughese is president of the Malaysian Bar.

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