Bosses stopping migrant workers joining unions, says MTUC

MTUC secretary-general J Solomon says enforcement should be tightened.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) revealed today that less than 3% of migrant workers in Malaysia are part of a union in their workplace.

MTUC secretary-general J Solomon said only around 50,000 of the 2.2 million documented migrant workers in Malaysia were unionised, adding that there were still more than four million undocumented foreign labourers.

Solomon blamed this on a lack of enforcement by the authorities, saying many foreign workers were often coerced and threatened by their employers from being unionised.

They know that disobeying their employers means they can lose their jobs or be sent back to their home country, said Solomon, adding that there were still many cases of workers’ passports being withheld by bosses despite it being lawfully wrong.

“Enforcement should be tightened. No point coming up with laws when enforcement is not done.

“Right now, it says migrant workers can join unions. But the government is aware that some employers are forcing workers not to join,” he said during a roundtable on migrant workers and labour unions.

He stressed that the benefits that the average Malaysian worker enjoys should also rightly be available to migrant workers, adding that there should be no distinction between one or the other.

Regarding the high number of undocumented migrant workers, Solomon urged Putrajaya to either send them home or legalise them.

David John Welsh, country director of the NGO “The Solidarity Centre”, who was at the roundtable, said ensuring fair application of laws was a worldwide issue, stressing that having regulations that subscribed to International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards alone were not enough.

“Looking around the (Southeast Asia) region, the laws are all compliant with ILO conventions. They look great on paper and look like they are promoting workers’ rights, but there’s no rule of law, or limited rule of law, across the region.

“The laws simply aren’t applied,” he said.

“So governments can go to stakeholders, companies and the international community and say, ‘Look, our laws are in line with what your laws are; our laws are in line with what the ILO has set.’”

Solomon was not surprised by the human resources ministry’s inaction, saying he did not expect much from them as they did not pay much attention to local workers.

Solomon also supported the call for the human resources ministry to handle all government functions pertaining to the hiring of foreign workers.

Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief Latheefa Koya had earlier suggested that the human resources ministry take over the affairs of migrant workers from the home ministry.

Solomon said the MTUC knew the complications that would arise from having too many ministries involved in handling foreign workers, adding that confining it to one ministry would ensure an easier check-and-balance mechanism.

While maintaining that corruption cannot be totally eradicated, he said the authorities need to ensure whistleblowers were being protected and their complaints looked into.

“If we complain and they say, ‘Never mind, we’ll give them time’, then who becomes the victim? The complainant becomes the victim.

“There was one time that the minister said there were more than 70,000 employers not complying with the minimum wage. But they’re not taking action against those who don’t comply, they’re giving them a time frame.

“But if the worker does not comply with the code of conduct or code of ethics in the workplace they’ll get terminated. So here, the law is not being applied.”