Investigate living conditions of migrant workers in all sectors

Photograph: The roads travelled for work - Women Migrant Workers in Singapore and Malaysia by UN Women Gallery/Flickr

After visiting the Top Glove migrant workers dormitories, the Minister Of Human Resources is reported to have said that he found it deplorable.

If that be the case in the the world’s largest manufacturer of rubber gloves, we are left wondering whether that would be the state of affairs in all other sectors that depend on migrant workers to roll out production.

The Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress wishes to commend the minister’s statement that the entire Labour Department’s resources would be mobilised to investigate the matter.

So, much as we appreciate the minister’s concerns, what needs to be postulated is whether his ministry would also adopt the same approach in all other sectors – whether manufacturing, plantation or construction. From what we understand, the living conditions in the plantation and construction sectors are not any better.

Though the Workers’ Minimum Standards Of Housing And Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446) has been around for a long time, it is sad that the government has only recognised its usefulness in reference to the Top Glove Teratai Covid-19 cluster.

Senior minister Ismail Sabri Yaakop’s announcement that the act would be enforced immediately is a manifestation of a knee-jerk political response: the law ought to have been enforced much, much earlier.

Clearly, the coronavirus pandemic has confirmed the concerns of trade unions and activists over the unacceptable living conditions provided to migrant workers. When such concerns were then raised by activist, we were accused of peddling half-truths or, worse, downright lies.

Now that the human resources minister has seen it for himself, we hope that affirmative action would be forthcoming, without fear or favour, regardless of the clout that big corporations yield. The minister’s pronouncement should not, we hope, be another public relations exercise – all full of sound and fury but signifying nothing!

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In conclusion, we also call upon the government to pay attention to the living conditions of undocumented migrant workers (estimated to be in the region of some four million), who have not being given due recognition of their contributions to sustaining the economic activities of the nation. They remain ostracised only on account of their undocumented status. That, in our view, is no justification for the government to deny them their basic right to acceptable living conditions, access to healthcare and social security protection.

Our nation cannot lay claim to being part of the international community if it abrogates its moral obligations to the millions of undocumented migrant workers who have been toiling to sustain the country’s economic transformation. They, too, are an integral part of the nation’s economic endeavours and, as such, ought to be accorded due recognition.

K Veeriah is secretary of the Penang division of the MalaysianTrades Union Congress

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