Advisory Committee Meeting and Fact Finding Mission – Malaysia 14-16 April 2014

On 14-16 April 2014, the Advisory Committee of the Asian Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Labour Migration met in Kuala Lumpur for their second meeting and to conduct a ‘fact-finding’ mission in Malaysia. The 7 participants included current members of parliament, parliamentary staff and former parliamentarians from Cambodia, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Pakistan. The delegation heard from civil society, trade unionists, current migrant workers in Malaysia, representatives from the National Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), and members of the Malaysian Bar council on the situation of migrant workers in the country.

The program began with representatives from Migrant Care and the Malaysian Trade Union Congress providing information on the 6P program and on issues faced by migrants in the country. The 6P program was an amnesty program meant to legalize the status of the thousands of undocumented migrant workers in the workers in the country through a series of 6 steps. The program ended on January 21, 2014, resulting in the largest crackdown on migrant workers in the country’s history. Specific case studies were presented of abuse faced by workers in the country, ranging non-payment of wages to murder. Particular attention was paid to the situation of Indonesian domestic workers in the country.

A presentation from SUHAKAM Commissioner James Nayagam appraised the Parliamentarians on the work of the Malaysia’s National Human Rights Commission. SUHAKAM’s primary role in the country is to advise the government on human rights issues, suggest amendments to the national law where pertaining to human rights, and to conduct national awareness training programs. Although SUHAKAM does not have a committee looking exclusively into the situation of migrant workers, it does accept complaints from everyone, including migrant workers, with the promise of an investigation and follow up action. The Commission recognizes the shortcomings of the Malaysian government in addressing the perilous situation of documented and undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia. Included in their recommendations to their government was to hire medical staff for detention centers, invite the UN Special Rapporteur on migration to Malaysia for country visit, and to amend national law to include domestic work.

Although the delegation represented migrant workers from all across Asia, it was noted that many of the issues discussed were common to all migrant workers in the region. Areas of concern that came up repeatedly through the meeting with stakeholders included non-payment of wages, the exploitative practices of outsourcing companies and recruitment agencies, ambiguity around work contracts and permits which lead migrant workers into vulnerable situations, the practice of employers disallowing migrant workers to retain their health insurance cards, and dangerous working conditions.

These concerns were brought into a new light when two Indonesian and one Nepali worker joined the session to share their experiences working as migrants in the country. The exploitative process of migration was mapped out, beginning with a narrative on how recruiters enter small villages in Indonesia with promises of high paying work abroad. Once an initial contract is signed, workers are brought to Malaysia with falsified work permits and health clearance and are forced to sign an entirely different contract, usually with fewer provisions. Those who unknowingly enter the country with falsified documents are at further risk of exploitation by employers and by corrupt officials.

Once in the country, the three presenters spoke of the highly manipulative practices of employers which include threats of deportation and non-payment of wages to prevent workers from taking legal action against these abuses. The deplorable living conditions of most migrant communities were spoken of by all migrant workers.

In preparation for this program, each participant was asked to schedule a meeting with his or her respective embassy in Kuala Lumpur with the objective of understanding these issues on a deeper level and to see for themselves how embassies cope with the high volume of migrant workers who seek their assistance. Participants reported back some varying, and many common situations faced by their nationals in the country. However, the threat of exploitation and abuse towards low-skilled worker migrating from within Asia remained constant. Common challenges shared among the Missions in Malaysia are the lack of capacity to assist all their nationals and not enough human resources. The imperative need for legal services and sociological and health services for migrant workers was reported among the group.

The last session of the program was dedicated to planning the next fact-finding mission in Qatar, the 2014 Caucus assembly and further anticipated activities of the Caucus.