PETALING JAYA: Rights activists have hit out at the human resources ministry’s proposal for employers to deduct 20% of their foreign workers’ basic salaries to prevent them from fleeing.
Yesterday, Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran said the proposal was a win-win solution, adding that the deducted amount would be kept in the Social Security Organisation (Socso) and the foreign workers could collect them when they leave the country after their work permits have expired.
However, Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) secretary-general J Solomon disagrees, saying the proposal encouraged “forced and bonded labour” and would invite condemnation by international labour and human rights organisations.
“It appears that the minister is making statements with blinkers on,” he told FMT, adding that presently, many employers were already keeping their foreign workers’ passports to prevent them from running away – a practice which is illegal.
Implementing the proposal, Solomon said, would only make matters worse for foreign workers, many of whom are living in unfavourable conditions and earning low wages.
“It is high time that the new government starts looking at foreign workers as humans and not as a commodity and comply with the international labour standards strictly instead of paying lip service.
“Such proposals should never be placed on the table for discussion as it is a violation of international labour standards.”
He urged the government not to emulate the previous administration in protecting employers who violate international labour standards.
Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das also said the proposal placed foreign workers in a bonded situation and would lead to the institutionalising of bonded labour.
“If workers are given a decent wage, decent work environment and a decent life, why would the employers fear their workers running away? That’s a vital question that needs to be answered.”
She said the proposal was “worrying” and “very corporate-driven”, and that Tenaganita hoped to see more clarity and understanding in this proposal.
Adrian Pereira, the executive director of North-South Initiative, a rights group, described the proposal as “shockingly embarrassing” and “anti-migrant”.
“Quickly apologise and pull back this suggestion before the global brands pull out their businesses from the Malaysian supply chain,” he said in a tweet.
He later told FMT that withholding salaries was against human rights principles.
“We should deduct the minister’s salary for making such a strange anti-migrant rights statement.”
Parti Sosialis Malaysia’s former Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar said the proposal was very unfair to foreign workers who came here to work so they could send money home.
“Deducting 20% of their salaries is a lot. How long do you want to hold on to it?”
He said the non-payment of salaries and the lack of a proper channel for foreign workers to seek their rights were reasons many of them fled their employers.
“If they were to complain about a work issue, the management can cancel their work permit and this is scary for other workers. Once they have no permits and are illegals, it is very hard for them to seek justice.”
Jeyakumar said there were more pressing issues which Kulasegaran could focus on, ranging from the foreign workers’ access to justice to the exploitative recruitment of foreign labour by agents and middlemen.
“As a minister of labour, it is not good for him to promote something that is so anti-worker.”
According to previous reports citing statistics from the human resources ministry, there are some 1.76 million foreign workers in the country.