Stop the abuse of migrants during the Covid-19 pandemic

The Migrant Workers’ Right to Redress Coalition (MWR2R) continues to be concerned about several alarming issues affecting migrant workers, domestic workers, refugees, asylum seekers, foreign spouses and others in our country.

The Coalition has noted the various press reports about the relatively high incidence of Covd19 infections within some migrant communities and within places of detention. At the same time, recent reports have also highlighted the appalling conditions many women, men, children and families in these communities face.

The reports have highlighted (not for the first time):

  1. The serious and dangerous overcrowding both at workplaces and at places of residence (which are usually under the control of employers or agents) which has been allowed to continue in a context where monitoring and enforcement of basic standards has been lacking for a long time, especially when it comes to migrants and refugees.
  2. The appalling treatment of thousands of women and men workers with regard to long hours, sub-standard conditions, abuse of employment laws, non-payment of wages, arbitrary repatriation, and neglect of any support for a right to redress. Conditions amounting to modern day slavery appear to be rampant.
  3. The potentially extensive use of child labour as exemplified by the recent raid on a factory in Klang where 38 refugee children were found to be employed.
  4. The lack of information about conditions at detention centres, which must be a source of concern to all living in this country if the conditions are so bad as to allow Covid19 to flourish.
  5. The lack of a right to redress for those affected by for example sudden closure of workplaces, delay in renewal of permits and visas, recalibration, and arbitrary repatriation. Peoples’ lives are being dramatically and negatively affected.

The Migrant Workers’ Right to Redress Coalition calls on the government to address these and other issues as a matter of urgency.

The fact of the matter is that solutions to these issues have long been identified and are ready for adoption and implementation assuming there is a government which is committed to protecting the dignity and rights of all people and the health of the nation over and above the private profits of the few. Many solutions are to be found in the Report of the Independent Committee on the Management of Foreign Workers which has been with the cabinet and Ministers for nearly two years, and which once again we call on the government to make public and to implement. We would also flag the recommendations in our own report Towards a Comprehensive National Policy on Labour Migration in Malaysia.

The treatment of migrant workers, domestic workers, refugees, asylum seekers, foreign spouses and others by this government and by employers, labour contractors and agents, and some other Malaysians demonstrates a wilful lack of respect for the contribution of these women, men and children to our nation and a lack of respect for the fundamental principles of the rule of law. The lack of provision for any right of redress to persons arbitrarily treated at their workplace or elsewhere has long been a concern of this Coalition. It is a fact that COVID19 has become an excuse for many employers and agents and others to increase their arbitrary use and treatment of foreign workers and for Immigration to continue to make arbitrary decisions regarding peoples’ status and futures.

We are therefore asking for a meeting with the respective Ministries of Home Affairs, Human Resources and Health to discuss their plans for action and we urge the Government to institutionalise meetings between Government agencies and civil society organisations for effective communication in the interest and well-being of communities.

Further, we would ask that the government, through the appropriate Ministry and agency,

  • Ensure that adequate resources are provided to the Labour Office to allow them to far more effectively carry out their monitoring and enforcement of conditions at the workplace. This includes giving the necessary political and financial support to appoint significantly more workplace inspectors. Otherwise abuses will continue with impunity and conditions of modern day slavery will continue to develop.
  • Allow independent access to detention centres and other places of detention, to ensure that all processes and conditions within these centres are properly followed, that the decision to detain a foreign national is subject to independent and speedy review, and that concerns about the way these centres are administered are addressed (which includes lack of hygiene, mistreatment of women, children and men detainees, and serious overcrowding)
  • Provide to the public up-to date data on the number of raids being conducted, the number of people detained, the number of people charged, what happens to them, and how many employers or others in positions of responsibility have been charged, with what offence, and with what punishment. Transparency is an essential basis for effective actions.

Further, as the government firms up its plan for the Covid19 vaccination programme, we would urge that no one in Malaysia be excluded from this programme. We would urge the government to make sure that the circumstances of every person are considered. This includes the situation facing documented workers, undocumented workers, workers in different sectors including domestic workers, all those within the refugee communities, foreign spouses, the stateless and others. Every effort needs to be made to ensure that all these people are able to access the vaccination programme and are not excluded on any basis, including by a possibility that they cannot afford it. If we do not do this, there will be a serious gap in the ability of the vaccination effort to make the sort of difference to the pandemic that many people are hoping for.


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