‘Exploitation of Bangladeshis akin to human trafficking’

(From left) Tenaganita executive director Glorene A Das, Caram Asia regional coordinator Musarrat Preveen and Tenaganita veteran migrant human rights activist Joseph M Paul at Tenaganita’s headquarters.

PETALING JAYA: Civil society group Tenaganita says the rights of Bangladeshi migrant workers continue to be trampled on.

Tenaganita executive director Glorene A Das said the ill-treatment of the Bangladeshi workers included unpaid wages and terminations without notice.

“The ill-treatment towards migrant workers is not something new.

“The rights of Bangladeshi migrant workers continue to be violated.

“The current conditions they are in can be categorised as human trafficking,” Glorene said at the launch of the Fact Sheet: Bangladeshi Migrant Workers in Malaysia.

The fact sheet, jointly curated by Tenaganita and Caram Asia (Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility), found that the top three rights violations against Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia are:

  1. Arrest and detention: Bangladeshi migrant workers are at risk of arbitrary arrest and detention by law enforcement officials.
  2. Withholding of workers’ passports: Bangladeshi workers’ passports are often kept by employers, recruitment agents or syndicates.
  3. Unpaid wages: Ever-changing government policies make it easy for employers to exploit workers.

Based on these findings, Glorene said Bangladeshi migrant workers often live in constant fear.

“They are helpless and some of them are often threatened by the employers and even the authorities.

“When they voice out their discontent, they get tortured (mentally and physically). They can’t leave because their passports have been ‘confiscated’.

“If they insist on leaving, they have to fork out hefty fees for emergency travel documents on top of a fee for overstaying if their employer cancels their work permit.”

She questioned the government as to why there were no solutions to the issues faced by the Bangladeshi migrant workers when the Malaysian economy was heavily dependent on them.

According to the fact sheet, there are an estimated six million migrant workers in Malaysia, making up 30% of the nation’s workforce, and a majority of the small-medium enterprises hire undocumented workers.

There are 800,000 to a million Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia.

As of February 2016, 244,973 workers from Bangladesh were holding a temporary employment pass (PLKS).

This means that 70% of Bangladeshi migrant workers are undocumented, making them highly vulnerable to exploitation with little access to redress when their rights are violated.

Tenaganita and Caram Asia also found that labour recruiters from source countries and Malaysia take undue advantage of those seeking employment by imposing exorbitant recruitment fees, often far exceeding the quantum set by the government.

This leads to heavy salary deductions, thus leaving the workers with a meagre sum to meet their living costs.

“Workers come to us with complaints of poor wages and working conditions, often in violation of the National Minimum Wage Act and the Employment Act.

“Understandably, such unacceptable practices cause extreme hardship and unhappiness and thus affect their productivity.

“Problems faced by migrant workers as a whole are numerous as they are seen as easy targets for exploitation.

“Even workers who come with proper documentation are subjected to various forms of violations, resulting from employers who, as a matter of practice, withhold their passports, leading to arrest, detention and deportation,” said Glorene.

Although Malaysia has enacted the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007 (Atipsom), labour outsourcing agencies do not come under the scrutiny of the authorities, leading to the many problems faced by workers who were brought in without a permit or with no job assurance.

Tenaganita’s Joseph M Paul said despite having written contracts, these workers were often forced to work overtime while being underpaid or not even paid. They work without sick leave or medical benefits.

“The lack of comprehensive policies for the recruitment and employment of migrants has provided opportunities for human traffickers to exploit undocumented migrant workers.

“Some of these cases may not be related to human traffickers, but what is happening to the migrant Bangladeshi workers is a situation of ‘modern day human trafficking’.

“They are private sector employers who are mistreating the migrant workers. This is similar to how victims of human trafficking are being treated,” said Joseph, who is the husband of the late migrant rights activist Irene Fernandez.

Joseph said many of the Bangladeshi migrant workers had been cheated in the past and were still being cheated of their hard-earned wages.

“They have no way of seeking justice,” said Joseph.

Tenaganita and Caram Asia urged the government to, among others, regulate recruitment procedures.

Recruitment, they said, should be determined by actual manpower needs and the human resources ministry should be given the sole responsibility for the management and monitoring of all matters related to migrant workers.

Payment for visas, levies, health insurance and fares should also be the responsibility of the employers under a zero recruitment fee policy.

The civil society groups also said private agents and companies supplying labour should be abolished and, instead, there should be a transparent government-to-government procedure for all recruitment and management of migrant workers.

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