Life’s better in Thailand than Malaysia for migrants, says activist

Some foreign workers are made to work for as many as 160 extra hours a month without being paid overtime, says a British researcher.

PETALING JAYA: If you are a migrant worker, you’ll get better treatment in Thailand than in Malaysia, according to British labour rights activist Andy Hall.

Hall, who was based in Thailand for 12 years until 2016, said working conditions in that country had improved remarkably in the last five years and he attributed this to pressure from international lobby groups.

He told FMT he once thought Thailand had the worst human rights record among countries with a large presence of foreign labourers. “But my research has shown migrant workers in Malaysia are worse off,” he added.

“They work 12 hours a day without off days and large numbers are cramped into one room without proper working toilets.”

He alleged that some workers were made to work for as many as 160 extra hours a month without being paid overtime.

He also spoke of suicide among foreign workers, saying they were driven to it by the intolerable working conditions.

Andy Hall says working conditions for migrant workers in Malaysia needs to be improved.

A 2016 report by the International Labour Organisation on the deaths of Nepali workers overseas found Malaysia had the highest number of deaths, with a significant number attributed to suicide.

Among the oppressive conditions that workers from Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh have to face, according to Hall, is the payment of bribes to recruitment agencies in both Thailand and Malaysia.

“In neither country should there be money passed under the table,” he said, “but the fee charged in Malaysia is simply ridiculous.”

According to him, the typical bribe in Malaysia is RM20,000 whereas in Thailand it is in the range of a tenth to a fifth of that amount.

Noting that many of the migrants are from poor backgrounds, he said they would have to mortgage or sell off their properties or take high-interest loans from cooperative banks in order to pay the bribe.

Hall said the Malaysian government should punish recruitment companies for soliciting bribes and empower foreign workers with a set of fundamental rights.

The workers must at least get the right to cancel their contracts at a reasonable cost and have access to their passports, he added.