Immigration racket turns workers into commodities

Migrant workers in Malaysia have been trapped in human trafficking racket that rakes in millions for international syndicates. The pattern of recruitment is that migrant workers must pay hard cash to their sponsors to enter the country. Once they arrive in Malaysia, they are duped and left stranded without jobs, money or assistance from their sponsor or authority. They end up as undocumented migrant workers or working without permits and are arrested and releases after bribing officials.

The arrest of Datuk Wahid Md Don, director general of the immigration department in July has exposed the multi-million dollar industry using foreign migrant workers as a trading commodity. The racket of this trafficking involved “the public, foreigners, government officers and also syndicates.” The corruption exposure comes even as the government prepare to launch a massive exercise to arrest and deport around 1.6 million Filipino and Indonesian migrant workers.

Yap Swee Seng, executive director of Suaram argues that there is no single authority that oversees migrant worker issues in a holistic manner—recruitment,placement,work, protection of rights, housing and living conditions, combating abuse and exploitation and return to homeland. The core problem is that Malaysia does not have a comprehensive migrant worker policy that is holistic and humanistic. Agile Fernandez from Tenaganita says that migrant worker sector must be handed over to the human resources ministry so that it is seen as a human resource issue because currently it is seen as a security issue under the home ministry.

In Malaysia, currently, there are 277 outsourcing companies with high quotas to recruit foreign workers. Politically connected people easily get the license to have outsourcing companies. Prominent commentator and chairman of the Centre for Policy Studies Ramon Navaratnam said there us an urgent need to revamp the entire system to prevent explotation and abuse and curb corruption. At present, the outsourcing companies get their licenses from immigration department to recruit workers. This is subject to and a major source of abuse and corruption.

Further, Navaratman argues that low-income workers are currently subject to exploitation due to the poor employment conditions they undergo and are unable to afford decent living especially with rising rates of inflation and an overall increase in the costs of living. There is also great deal of confusion presently about the management of foreign workers, the appointment of agents, renewal of permits and licenses and role of enforcement agencies. Navaratman emphasizes that ‘chaotic situation’ reflects poorly on the country and requires an “urgent and total” revamp of the entire system.


Indonesian children ‘as farm slaves’ in Malaysia

 An Indonesian child protection agency, the National Commission for Child Protection (NCCP), has accused palm-oil farmers in the Malaysian state of Sabah of ‘systematically enslaving’ the children of Indonesian workers.

In a three-day fact-finding mission, it found that child workers on several plantations had no employment contracts, worked long hours and were paid little or nothing. Some 34,000 children had never been to school and had no identity documents, making their status illegal.

The Malaysian Agricultural Producers Association, the umbrella group for palm oil plantation owners, denied conditions amounted to slavery - but admitted Indonesian children were sometimes put to work by their families.

Irene Fernandez, executive director of Tenaganita, a Malaysian migrant rights NGO, said ‘the situation of Indonesian workers in the plantation is best described as bonded labour.

‘There are nearly 40,000 children working in the oil palm plantations in Sabah. They work with their families. The wage system is based on a quota and whole families work to fulfil the quota,’ said Ms Fernandez.

‘The parents take their child to work in the plantation to help fulfil the quota of oil palm fruits cut for the day. They can’t leave the child at home because it is not safe.’ Ms Fernandez said.

According to the Indonesian consulate-general in Sabah’s Kota Kinabalu, some 330,000 Indonesians work on at least 103 plantations in Sabah. Almost half are illegal workers, and 72,000 are children, it said.

The NCCP and Migrant Care Indonesia blame both the Indonesian and the Malaysian governments and have called for fast, decisive action.

Source: Fabio Scarpello and Baradan Kuppusamy, South China Morning Post, 23 Sept 2008