Cheap Labour Policy continues to exploit migrant labour

PRESS STATEMENT – PARTI SOSIALIS MALAYSIA – International Migrants Day (18th December,2019) Statement

Today, 18 December is International Migrants Day. The UN and related organizations try to paint a happy picture of migrant labour playing a dynamic role in the development of both the countries of origin and destination, and of people moving freely to where they desire in order to improve their lives. The actual circumstances of large scale migration involving the two largest movements of people, migrant labour and refugees, and their situation in the destination countries however can be quite grim.

For people in many destination countries, the terms migrant, migration, and refugee are not neutral terms devoid of emotion. Generally they evoke negative feelings ranging from pity to hostility and in the past decade with its large scale migration, these feelings have influenced people to punish governments for their pro-migrant policies by voting them out.

The Malaysian situation can perhaps explain why. If we look at the Malaysian workforce consisting of local workers, documented and undocumented migrant workers, and refugees, we see the sad picture of a divided working class that unwittingly serves the interest of business, but undermines itself.

The desire for cheaper and more compliant labour, the refusal of government to craft and implement policy to protect the rights of all workers, and the treatment of labour migration as a business opportunity for all involved, have all resulted in supply far exceeding actual labour requirements. The government has consistently maintained a documented migrant workforce of about 2 million, but has allowed an additional 4 million odd undocumented workers to remain and work with no rights or protection . This situation has weakened an already weak working class.

While this divided labour situation benefits investors looking for cheap labour, it pits worker against worker in the quest for jobs, decent wages, and better working conditions. No doubt, the presence of large numbers of migrant workers with more humble expectations and those with ‘no rights’ (undocumented workers, and refugees) has pulled down the bargaining power of the entire workforce. Wages have been kept low, and working conditions have kept regressing.

Naturally Malaysian workers don’t feel positive about their migrant brethren as they are compared unfavourably with them for expecting higher wages, and shorter working days amongst others. In truth all Malaysian workers want at this point are wages that can enable them to pay for the basic needs of food, housing and healthcare, and working hours that allow them time with their families.

For migration to be viewed differently, positively, drastic changes need to be made to the way the world economy is organized. We need to appreciate that the driving force of labour migration is grinding poverty and desperation due to the lack of economic opportunities in the sending countries. Underdevelopment due to unfair terms of trade, toxic debt obligations, structural adjustments fostered by the IMF and World Bank has resulted in many countries in Asia and Africa not being able to meet the minimum needs of their populations despite achieving independence 50 to 60 years ago.

We need a different kind of globalisation with fair terms of trade, with primary commodities given due weightage, with better distribution of wealth through progressive taxation, in short with a system that prioritizes the human being and the environment instead of the rapacious greed for profits.

Mohanarani R
PSM Central Committee Member /Migrant Desk Coordinator

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