Deaths of Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia shocking, unacceptable

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Photo credit: indmediahk.net

Rani Rasiah urges the government to investigate each of these deaths thoroughly to ascertain the actual causes.

The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) finds the recent report of the huge number of deaths of Bangladeshi workers – two deaths a day, 96 deaths in January 2019 alone, and the doubling of deaths in six years since 2012 – shocking and totally unacceptable.

The government should take serious and immediate action to get to the root of it.

Whatever the causes of these deaths, Malaysia has become the ‘killing fields’ of these young workers, and we should take responsibility and start investigations right away.

The chief causes of death given in the death certificates namely strokes and heart attacks need to be queried. These causes are simply incompatible with this cohort – thousands of young workers in the age range of 18–32 years and certified medically fit to be migrant workers.

Was due diligence practised before ascribing these deaths to strokes and heart attacks? Or do we not care as they are poor migrant workers?

PSM thinks that deficiencies in vitamins or trace minerals because of poor diet could be a possible cause of some of these deaths, as this has been seen in migrant populations before.

Exposure to pathogens that are not endemic in the sending countries could be another cause.

Poor living conditions leading to infections such as typhus and leptospirosis have to be considered.

Delays in seeking medical treatment because of the high costs are yet another possibility.

We urge the government to investigate each of these deaths thoroughly to ascertain the actual cause. In addition to blood examinations and a postmortem, a thorough history from the deceased worker’s colleagues as to the symptoms he had before succumbing would be of help in determining the causes.

We should also start a database to compile the details of each case to get an overview. We need to expend some effort to get to the bottom of this problem and not just shrug it off.

The report itself links the deaths to the heavy debt burden borne by the workers whose families mortgage whatever little property to raise about RM20,000 to pay for recruitment and other related costs. Expectations are high that money will flow in from Malaysia to settle the loans and pay for household expenses.

But workers are hit hard by reality once they land and find themselves moved from employer to employer and original contracts replaced a few times over with terms that are less favourable. Unexplained salary deductions and other forms of exploitation, such as short-changing workers’ overtime payments, shrink the pay packet making it harder and harder to send home money.

It is well known that the heavy debts incurred to pay for recruitment costs back home lead to situations of debt bondage and modern-day slavery here in Malaysia. Groups working on migrant issues such as the Right to Redress Coalition have proposed that all recruitment and related fees be borne fully by employers to tackle this situation.

Malaysia has become more and more dependent on migrant workers, and though the 11th Malaysia Plan aimed to cap the numbers at 15% of the workforce. The BN ignored it, and the PH now does not seem to be paying any heed to it. The number of migrant workers, both documented and undocumented is estimated to be six million.

What is unacceptable is that to date, the government has not seen the need to draw up a comprehensive set of policies to deal with the different aspects of labour migration such as recruitment, undocumented workers, housing and health.

There is continued reliance on ad hoc decisions and a failure to properly address the persistent problems associated with labour migration. This has led to many unresolved and festering problems. The Bangladeshi worker deaths need to be located in this context.

Enough; stop this ongoing tragedy!

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