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Friday, April 9, 2021

Forced labour issue, Suhakam says govt should reveal the report

 


Malaysia's moves on addressing issues of forced labour in the construction industry should include making public the Special Independent Committee on Foreign Worker Management report prepared by the previous Pakatan Harapan administration.

National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner Jerald Joseph (above) said 40 suggestions in the classified report, based on the engagements with stakeholders conducted at the time, could still be applied today.

Among others, participants at a Suhakam stakeholder consultation meeting in Kuala Lumpur today raised the issue of middlemen involved in migrant workers recruitment for the construction industry that contributed to forced labour issues.

"I think this has been the big question. Do we need so many middlemen and agencies to ensure effective employment in this industry?

"From the best practices in other countries, many countries are doing away with middlemen," Jerald said.

"We can do a seamless end-to-end recruitment, with much more transparency using technology and the online system.

"Malaysia can move in that direction and one of the benefits is, the fees are reduced and whatever fee is imposed will be channelled to government coffers," he added.

Former human resources minister M Kulasegaran

Last June, the then human resources minister under the Harapan government, M Kulasegaran, said the independent committee headed by former Court of Appeal judge Hishamuddin Yunus had, since early 2019, presented its report to the then Harapan cabinet, but not a single suggestion was implemented until the government's downfall.

Prior to that, the BN government, through amendments to the Private Employment Agencies Act that were enforced in February 2018, had attempted to reduce the number of licensed companies from 1,202 to just over 400, including those only involved in the recruitment of domestic helpers.

However, the matter of unlicensed middlemen profiting from migrants continued, including targeting those who were already present and seeking services offered by the government.

Jerald also noted that there was a need to upgrade existing terms or to enter into new government-to-government agreements, for instance, such as the Malaysia-Nepal deal signed in September 2019.

The agreement on new terms to provide increased protection for Nepali workers in Malaysia was signed in the wake of a cross-border investigation by Malaysiakini and Nepali news outlet Himar Khabarpatrika that exposed collusion between corrupt Nepali and Malaysian officials and private companies to charge workers exorbitant fees.

Suhakam chairperson Mah Weng Kwai

Meanwhile, Suhakam chairperson Mah Weng Kwai said there is no denying the demand for foreign workers in the construction industry,

"We most certainly appreciate the need for foreign workers in our construction industry.

"While they come in and we need them, the right thing to do is to take care of them properly," Mah said.

He also stressed that the issue of modern-day slavery has extended beyond outright physical abuse to conditions where a worker would not willingly work if given a choice.

He said most of the problems have been ongoing for many years but were recently exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, which exposed migrants working and living in poor conditions, as well as non-payment of salaries.

Suhakam's engagement with the stakeholders saw the participation of various local authorities and foreign missions representing source countries, including India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar. - Mkini

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