Respect the dignity, human and labour rights of migrants workers in Malaysia

The government should not use the pandemic as an excuse to relegate its obligation to protect the rights of migrant workers in the country

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Since the arrival of migrant workers to Malaysia in the 1980s, the community continues to shape the growth of Malaysia.

The contribution of migrant workers to the development and economy of Malaysia is undeniably immense.

As we celebrate [the recent] International Migrants Day, Hakam unequivocally calls for the dignity, human and labour rights of migrant workers in Malaysia to be respected and safeguarded.

During the lockdown in Malaysia, migrant workers served as frontline personnel alongside Malaysians, in among others, health, transportation and food services to make our lives more bearable. We salute all frontline personnel who unselfishly served the nation in this time of need.

The coronavirus pandemic affected and continues to affect Malaysians and migrants alike. However, the migrant population has been disproportionately affected by arbitrary job terminations, wage cuts, unpaid wages, forced leave, involuntary repatriation, discrimination and xenophobia.

Many were stranded without their source of income when companies shut, some permanently, while others declared bankruptcy. With flights grounded and international borders closed, migrants had no avenue to return home.

While migrant workers have always faced constant discrimination and exploitation, the pandemic only highlighted and amplified the vulnerability of the population further.

Hakam observed that xenophobia in Malaysia during the pandemic hit an all-time high, with many anti-migrant statements and policies against migrants and refugee populations. The immigration raids during the pandemic also, regrettably, caused Covid clusters in immigration detentions.

As a UN member and signatory to key human rights and labour conventions and international standards, the Malaysian government should not use the pandemic as an excuse to relegate its obligation to protect the rights of migrant workers in the country.

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Hakam urges the government to:

  • make public the report of the Independent Committee on the Management of Foreign Workers and implement its recommendations
  • closely monitor businesses’ adherence to housing regulations and labour laws including ensuring that migrants are not forcibly returned home without due process
  • expedite the release and repatriation of all detained migrants in detention
  • cease the detention of undocumented migrants and allow them to avail
  • themselves to the recalibration programmes to legalise [their status] or return
  • work with Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in its quest to stamp out corruption in all enforcement agencies
  • accede to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 1990, which recognises and guarantees respect for the dignity and rights of all migrants, regardless of their national origin or immigration status
  • adopt the Domestic Workers’ Convention 2011 (C189) and enact a national domestic workers act to recognise domestic workers as workers and provide them with fundamental workers’ rights
  • adopt the Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (C190) to protect all individuals in the world of work
  • implement provisions of the Asean Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers and the Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers as well as the recommendations from 13 Asean Forum on Migrant Labour conferences
  • adhere to the principles in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to which wherein Malaysia is a signatory.
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Dato’ Sri M Ramachelvam is deputy president of the National Human Rights Society (Hakam)

18 December 2020

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