A nauseating odour, rats and cockroaches, infested living conditions, folded cardboard boxes for beds, poor ventilation and leaking pipes – this is not a case of life in a slave camp but the reality in some places in today’s Malaysia.
That was the case when the Labour Department inspected the housing conditions of migrant workers in Bandar Tun Razak, Cheras recently.
Shocking, though, was the disclosure that the employer’s representative took the position that the company had fulfilled its responsibility to provide accommodation – but had no time to monitor living conditions, leaving it to the workers to resolve the issues they face!
We, in the Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (Penang MTUC) outrightly condemn the nefarious attitude of the employer involved.
To the authorities, we say invoke the full extent of the law as such employers do not deserve mercy for the inhumane treatment of their migrant workers.
Such uncaring employers should be blacklisted from seeking to recruit migrant workers.
Our country, having ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Protocol 29 (the ILO’s forced labour convention), has a duty to enforce the Minimum Standards of Housing, Accommodation and Amenities Act 1990, without fear or favour.
Though that ought to be so, we understand that, with about 400 labour inspectors nationwide, the Labour Department lacks the personnel to undertake extensive inspections of housing conditions, let alone ensure adherence to employment-related labour standards.
Under such circumstances, the incidences of abuse and violation of Minimum Standards of Housing, Accommodation and Amenities Act will continue on account of insufficient enforcement.
Penang MTUC, therefore, is of the view that the Ministry of Human Resources ought to create a migrant worker affairs department with jurisdiction to oversee issues pertaining to the employment of migrant workers.
With millions of migrant workers toiling in the economic interest of our country, we argue that a specialised migrant worker affairs department with the authority to investigate, inspect, enforce and prosecute errant employers is urgently required.
Unless the ministry takes a proactive approach in curbing the abuse of migrant workers, violations of basic human rights will continue.
We believe that by enhancing our enforcement mechanism, through a dedicated migrant worker affairs department within the Ministry of Human Resources, instances of abuse of migrant workers can be greatly arrested.
K Veeriah is secretary of the Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress