平和
和平
평화

MIGRATION

ASEAN
30 August 2014

Fourth Class

Malaysia's abuses of migrants' rights

Malaysia receives many migrants from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Cambodia. Sadly, many suffer deplorable migrants' rights abuses.

Malaysia is one of a few Asian countries that has growing and important numbers of both emigrants and immigrants.

Skilled Malaysians and students leave to countries like Australia, US, UK and Canada, with advanced and prosperous economies, and with democratic political systems and respect for human rights. At the same time, over the past twenty years, the number of foreign workers in Malaysia rose by 340% to reach 1.8 million in 2010. Half of these migrant workers come from Indonesia, and much of the rest come from other neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Most regrettably, Malaysia's mistreatment of its migrants is legion, and many case have been documented, including one by Human Rights Watch on the abuse of Cambodia domestic workers migrating to Malaysia.

Large scale migration of Cambodian workers to Malaysia started in 1998. But the demand for Cambodian domestic workers has increased sharply in Malaysia since 2009, when the Indonesian government responded to several high-profile abuse cases by imposing a moratorium on its nationals working as domestic workers there. (The Malaysian government concluded a Memoradum of Understanding with Indonesia in May 2011 to guarantee migrant domestic workers the ability to keep their passports and have a weekly rest day, but did not extend these protections to Cambodian domestic workers.)

Recruitment agencies immediately turned to workers from Cambodia to fill the shortage, reports Human Rights Watch. Since 2008, forty to fifty thousand Cambodian women and girls have migrated to Malaysia as domestic workers.

Not all of Malaysia domestic workers suffer abuse. Human Rights Watch interviewed some Cambodian domestic workers who had positive employment experiences in Malaysia and plan to renew their contracts. Their employers treated them well, paid them on time, and allowed them to remain in touch with their families.

However, gaps in Malaysia's labor laws mean that there are few minimum standards and a domestic worker's employment conditions depend on her employer. When cases of abuse do occur, domestic workers have little recourse for protection from the Malaysian government. Hence the many horror stories recounted in this report.

Some recruitment agents in Cambodia forge fraudulent identity documents to recruit children, offer cash and food incentives that leave migrants and their families heavily indebted, mislead them about their job responsibilities in Malaysia, and charge excessive recruitment fees.

Agents forcibly confine migrant recruits for three months or longer in training centers without adequate food, water, and medical care. Some labor agents coerce women and girls to migrate even if they no longer wish to work abroad. Workers who escape from the training centers face retaliation for escaping or for failing to pay debts related to the recruitment process.

A few large recruitment agencies are either owned or affiliated to powerful Cambodian government officials. This makes it difficult for labor inspectors, police, or other officials to conduct proper investigations or hold these agencies accountable for recruitment-related abuses.

Once in Malaysia, Cambodian women and girls often have to surrender their passports to their agents or employers, making it harder for them to leave if they are mistreated. Many work for 14 to 21 hours a day without rest breaks or days off. And many are forcibly confined to their work places, are not given adequate food, and are physically and verbally abused. Some have been sexually abused by their employers. None of the workers Human Rights Watch interviewed said they had received their full salary.

Abused workers often turn to the local agents of their recruitment companies, since they are typically the only contact the worker has in Malaysia, but may face intimidation and a return to the same abusive employer. The Cambodian embassy in Kuala Lumpur has also returned workers, including those who experienced sexual and physical abuse, to their recruitment agency or employers.

Malaysian labor laws exclude migrant domestic workers from key protections, such as a weekly day of rest, annual leave, and limits on working hours. Immigration laws tie a domestic worker’s residency to her employer, so the employer can terminate a domestic worker’s contract at will and refuse permission to transfer jobs. These policies restrict domestic workers’ ability to seek redress and to change employers, even in cases of abuse.

Human Rights Watch has a number of sensible recommendations. The Cambodian government should introduce a comprehensive migration law, strengthen monitoring of recruitment agencies, and impose significant penalties when violations occur. The Malaysian government should revise its labor and sponsorship laws to strengthen protection for domestic workers. Both countries should increase support services for abused workers, including legal aid and psychosocial services.

Human Rights Watch also urged Cambodia and Malaysia to ratify the International Labour Organization Convention on domestic work. The treaty obliges governments to ensure decent working conditions, to impose a minimum age requirement for domestic work, and to protect domestic workers from violence and exploitative recruitment practices.

In light of the Human Rights Watch Report and much media attention, on 15 October, 2011 the Prime Minister of Cambodia announced a ban on the recruitment, training and sending of domestic workers to Malaysia. But many Cambodian domestic workers who were already there, remain in Malaysia and it is believed that some are still going, through unofficial channels.

A Cambodian investigative committee which included government representatives, rights workers and other agencies, recently spent two days in Malaysia examining the situation. Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state for the Cambodian Ministry of Interior, who headed the delegation, said the inquiry found four types of violations. “There are victims of sexual exploitation, human trafficking, overwork and no salary, and forced labor,” she said.

The Malaysian and Cambodian governments have commenced a dialogue on the issue of Cambodian domestic workers in Malaysia and are in the process of negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding on the recruitment and employment of Cambodian domestic workers.

Would this be enough to protect this vulnerable category of migrants?

Although it may be a step in the right direction, a Memorandum of Understanding alone will not have sufficient force. That would require changes to national laws and a high level of commitment from those enforcing and implementing those laws, accompanied by a fundamental change in society’s view of these workers.

This case of migrants' rights abuses in Malaysia is disturbing in many respects. Migrant's rights abuses have been going on for a very long time, without sufficient meaningful action by the Malaysia government to stop this. It is simply shameful for a middle income country like Malaysia, which aspires to be an advanced and respectable country.

Author

John West
Executive Director
Asian Century Institute
www.asiancenturyinstitute.com
Tags: asean, Malaysia, Cambodia, migration, migrant's rights, Human Rights Watch.

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