PETALING JAYA: Former Klang MP Charles Santiago has hit out at human resources minister V Sivakumar for denying that the issue of forced labour in Malaysia is as extensive as claimed by activists.
Santiago said his DAP colleague’s response was a “red flag” and irresponsible as it was a dismissal of the scale of the issue.
He said it was harmful to workers still trapped in forced labour systems and undermines Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s efforts to bring investments into Malaysia.
“Sivakumar’s response is a red flag. Forced labour exists, and his admission reveals a broken system that threatens the safety and rights of vulnerable workers. The human resources ministry’s lack of urgency (on the issue) is appalling.
“The ministry’s failure to accurately assess the scale of forced labour is unacceptable. It needs to work with NGOs to conduct a joint study,” he said in a statement.
Yesterday, Sivakumar acknowledged there was an issue of forced labour in Malaysia but said he does not believe the “number (of such cases) is that big”.
He said the definition of forced labour encompasses a “wide” range of circumstances, adding that employers who do not pay workers their salary can be deemed to have committed forced labour.
He reiterated that the government is committed to taking strong action against employers found to be involved in forced labour.
His comments followed assertions by UK-based activist Andrew Wallis, who claimed that modern slavery exists as a “significant illicit industry” within Malaysia.
Wallis also said there may be as many as 212,000 victims in the country at any given time.
Santiago urged the ministry to be swift in blacklisting employers who fail to abide by the International Labour Organization’s standards and exploit their workers.
A list of blacklisted employers should also be published on the ministry’s website to inculcate transparency and accountability, he added.