Don’t demonise foreign workers, Malaysians told

Malaysians should appreciate the labour and contributions of foreign workers instead of subjecting them to unfair allegations, activists say.

PETALING JAYA: Activists have called for better treatment of migrant workers in the wake of the prime minister’s message on Hari Raya eve for Malaysians to show gratitude towards foreign labourers.

Eric Paulsen, Malaysia’s representative at the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, said migrant workers have long been demonised with unfair allegations.

He said such workers are in the country to make an honest living, with many of them performing 3D or dirty, dangerous and difficult work that Malaysians do not want to do.

“Instead of appreciating the blood, tears, toil and sweat of these migrant workers which have contributed to where Malaysia is today, xenophobic attitudes against them continue,” he said.

“For example, during festive seasons when many of them congregate at KLCC and Kota Raya, we see negative news reports of migrant workers ‘taking over’ the city.

“It was definitely a timely call by the prime minister,” he told FMT.

In his message, Mahathir had urged Malaysians to remember that without foreign workers, the country would have remained undeveloped.

“While we enjoy all this, we must remember that our favour is due to the sweat of the foreign workers that worked for us, they who poured their heart to ensure food supplies get to us,” he said.

But Paulsen said sweeping and unfair statements have been made against migrant workers, warning of the diseases that they bring, and how they cause social problems or prey on local women.

“I urge my fellow Malaysians to be fair as these workers, like all of us, only want to earn an honest living and also live a little while they are in Malaysia.”

He said documented and undocumented workers alike are often exploited as they are placed in vulnerable situations.

He also noted a lack of legal contracts in many instances which deprives them of rights such as proper rest days, statutory benefits, healthcare and insurance such as those enjoyed by local workers.

“Passports are also commonly withheld by employers, which restricts their movements and makes them extremely vulnerable to arrest, ill-treatment and extortion by the police when they are found without proper documents,” he said.

“If they have entered without proper documents, they are even more vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

“Malaysia should treat migrant workers better, provide fair wages and working conditions, and protect them from exploitation.”

North South Initiative director Adrian Pereira meanwhile called for a National Comprehensive Labour Migration Policy, saying gratitude should not be shown only in words.

“Looking at the current working and living conditions of foreign workers and the ongoing labour reforms, we are millennia away from giving our foreign workers a just deal,” he told FMT.

He said many Malaysians might feel that migrant workers are occupying positions which could be filled by locals.

But under a capitalist economic model, he said, the most expandable workers are preferred – in this case, foreign workers who can be made to work beyond 12 hours per day, almost every day, and without rest days.

“What Malaysian workers must understand is, the foreign workers are not to be blamed. It is the employers and agents who profiteer from their situation.

“And let us not forget that employers and agents are doing this only because there is poor enforcement and too many loopholes in the laws. The exploitation has to stop,” he said.