For some foreign workers, MCO means no food and no pay

Migrant workers at their accommodation near Avenue 8 in Petaling Jaya.

PETALING JAYA: The movement control order (MCO) is especially tough on foreigners engaged in menial work, according to sources speaking for Bangladeshis and Filipinos.

Bangladeshi migrant community leader Abu Hayat and Philippine embassy domestic worker representative Liezel Galdo said many of the workers all over the country were not being paid and had no food.

“The employers are not helping them,” said Abu, urging the government to provide them with food supplies.

Refugees and documented and undocumented migrant workers can go to government facilities to test for Covid-19 without fear of legal repercussions.

But Abu said the government should also provide supplies to foreign workers who are living in squalid conditions without food and other essentials.

Undocumented migrants were the most affected, he added. “There is no work at all and they don’t have money to buy food.”

Temporary housing for migrant workers near Hilton Hotel in Petaling Jaya.

He said construction workers – documented or undocumented – were living without pay because construction works are suspended in the MCO period.

“Some of them are borrowing money from their employers and will have to pay them back after they start working again.

“If the MCO is prolonged, it will be difficult for them to survive. They won’t be able to pay for their housing.”

He added that those living in cramped conditions on construction sites were finding it difficult to maintain social distancing and adequate hygiene.

“There are eight to 10 people in one room,” he said.

“I spoke with them and they said they’re trying hard to keep safe distances from one another and to clean their accommodation and clothes. And they use masks when they go out.”

Migrant workers observing the one-metre distancing rule as they line up for a medical check-up.

He also said operations at the Bangladesh embassy were suspended for the duration of the MCO, making it difficult for workers to receive aid from the consulate. “The embassy has asked NGOs to help provide resources to foreign workers in need.”

The Philippine embassy is also closed, according to Galdo.

She said restrictions under the MCO were preventing the embassy from carrying out rescue missions even if it hears of cases of abuse of domestic maids.

However, she added, there had not been any increase in complaints since the MCO came into effect.

She complained that some domestic workers living with their employers were being made to work longer hours and even on their rest days with no compensation.

“Even if they cannot go out, they should still have their rest days,” she said.

Migrant workers waiting for food distribution.

However, she added, freelance domestic workers living on their own were suffering because of the loss of income.

“They are scared to go out. They just stay in their apartments. We have received a lot of complaints that they don’t even have food now.”

She fears that with the stricter restrictions under the second phase of the MCO, NGOs that usually distribute food and essentials to those in need may not be able to deliver the supplies to them effectively.

The government recently gave the green light for NGOs to distribute food to their targeted communities during the MCO period, but said they must abide by certain guidelines, including informing the state welfare department a day earlier.

Only two members of each NGO are allowed to distribute the items, and a Rela or Civil Defence Force member will accompany them.