PETALING JAYA: Employers have no legal right to hold the passports of foreign workers, says Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).
Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy said the passport was the sovereign property of the worker’s country of origin.
“Our passport doesn’t technically belong to us. It’s given to us by the government. So in this case, the employer is holding the property of the Indian government, which is wrong,” he told FMT.
Sevan was commenting on a report that India was investigating a case of an Indian national stranded in Malaysia after his employers refused to give him back his passport.
According to the Press Trust of India, Jagat Singh from the state of Uttarakhand was working in a hotel in Malaysia. When he wanted to return home, his bosses allegedly took his passport away and forced him to continue working.
Sevan said it was crucial that the human resources ministry and Immigration Department immediately investigate and act on the report.
“In many cases, when the employer complains about alleged wrongdoing by the employee, the employee is detained immediately for further investigation.
“In this case, the authorities should act fast against the employer.”
Sevan said a similar situation had occurred a while ago when security guards undertook to hold the identification cards (ICs) of visitors.
“A few years ago, security guards wanted to hold our ICs and it became an issue because it is illegal. The same goes for the passport.”
Klang MP Charles Santiago said it was quite common for employers to hold on to the foreign workers’ passports as “insurance”.
“The passport is like insurance to keep the workers under control. However, it is against the law to do that.
“The law requires that all workers should keep their passports.”
Santiago said the issue had already popped up in reports of human trafficking and the Malaysian government had said that employers were not to hold on to the passports of migrant workers.
“This practice continues because of poor enforcement and corruption among the enforcement authorities.
“You can still find employers holding on to the passports of their workers.”
Santiago said the government had to be more vigilant through better enforcement.
“They should bring the employers to court and charge them. Don’t let them get away with it.
“India has sent a large number of workers here. It might put the brakes on sending workers to Malaysia. There is pressure on the Malaysian government to act.”
Santiago also said the foreign workers would not contact the authorities if their passports were held back because they were afraid of the employers, who paid their salaries and dictated the terms of their employment.
He said Malaysia will be seen as a country that abuses its migrant workers if no action is taken.
Santiago said there must also be self-regulation within the industry, especially in Malaysian companies.