Home Civil Society Voices End discrimination against foreigners, migrants in Covid-19 responses

End discrimination against foreigners, migrants in Covid-19 responses

Photograph: The roads travelled for work - Women Migrant Workers in Singapore and Malaysia by UN Women Gallery/Flickr

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We, the 41 undersigned groups and organisations, urge Malaysia to end discrimination and ethnophobia against migrant workers and foreigners including in responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the beginning of May, it was reported that all migrant/foreign workers will be required to be screened for Covid-19, before they would be allowed to return to work in all sectors.

Recently, there was a report that foreigners would not be allowed to use mosque and suraus (Malay Mail, 11 June 2020).

These are practices against human rights, and also that the Federal Constitution. Article 8 of the Federal Constitution – which states: “(1) All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law” – is clear that this guarantee of equality applies to all persons, citizens or otherwise in Malaysia.

The Employment Act 1955 is also against discrimination amongst workers based on nationality: Section 60L(1) also states: “(1) The Director General may inquire into any complaint from a local employee that he is being discriminated against in relation to a foreign employee, or from a foreign employee that he is being discriminated against in relation to a local employee, by his employer in respect of the terms and conditions of his employment…”

This provision clearly captures our principle against discrimination based on nationalities of workers, and as such the Malaysian government’s current requirement that ONLY migrant workers – and not local workers – have to be screened and tested before being allowed to return to work is discriminatory.

There is no rational or reasonableness for such requirements that discriminate against a certain class of workers, as Covid-19 does not discriminate.

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It is also goes against the often-mentioned Malaysian policy for testing and screening in response to the Covid-19, which has been reiterated many times by the director general of health in his daily televised reports.

On 10 June, Malaysia reportedly had a daily testing capacity of 34,951 samples (New Straits Times, 10 June 2020), and there are over two million documented migrant workers in Malaysia, and for just all the two million-plus to be tested, it will take about two months-plus. The reality is that so many others, not just foreigners, have to be screened everyday.

The Malaysian approach, as far as screening and testing was concerned, was before a rationale ‘targeted approach’. Persons who could have come in contact with the infected, and those showing positive symptoms and other high risk groups like returnees from infected countries were the focus.

Health director general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah also did say “if you test everyone and then you isolate them, that’s fine”. But the fact is migrants and everyone tested is thereafter never isolated from the rest of the untested community, and there is always a risk of contact with persons who may not be Covid-19 free, which in the case of workers, will also include the other untested local workers who work with them. “So that’s the next question, how often do you want to test them?” (Malay Mail, 14 May 2020).

Malaysia’s xenophobic response to foreigners in Malaysia also may negatively affect Malaysia’s moral standing to condemn similar discriminatory practices against Malaysians now in foreign countries – hence the ability to keep Malaysians overseas safe from Covid-19 is affected.

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Malaysia needs to act in accordance with values, principles and human rights, especially in its response to Covid-19 and its consequences.

Whilst today, the Federal Constitution guarantees equality, Article 8(2), that imposes only on government and public authorities specified anti-discrimination obligations, seems to not impose the same obligations on the private sector and other employers. In short, others including private sector employers, may still discriminate against workers and other people simply “on the ground only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender”.

Calls for laws to impose these anti-discrimination obligations on all, including private sector employers have gone unheeded for far too long.

Therefore, we call on Malaysia to:

  • end all xenophobic and/or discriminatory policies and practices against migrant workers and foreigners in its responses to Covid-19 pandemic
  • amend laws and/or the Federal Constitution to extend the obligation to specifically not discriminate “on the ground only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender” to all, including private sector employers
  • provide needed basic assistance to cope with loss of income or employment to all persons affected by Covid-19, including migrant workers, foreigners and the self-employed.

Charles Hector
Adrian Pereira

On behalf of the groups listed below:

  1. Aliran
  2. Workers Hub For Change (WH4C)
  3. North South Initiative (NSI)
  4. Tenaganita
  5. Suaram
  6. Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)
  7. People’s Service Organisation (PSO), Malaysia
  8. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
  9. Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet)
  10. Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (Namm)
  11. National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam)
  12. Parti Sosialis Malaysia(PSM)
  13. Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign
  14. Gagasan Insan Progresif
  15. Timber Industry Employees Union of Sarawak
  16. Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union (STIEU)
  17. Labour Behind the Label
  18. International Black Women for Wages for Housework
  19. International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF)
  20. Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) Asia Pacific region
  21. Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) South East Asian Coalition
  22. Odhikar, Bangladesh
  23. Migrant Care, Indonesia
  24. Persatuan Pekerja Rumah Tangga Indonesia (Pertimig) di Malaysia
  25. All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress (AASYC), Burma/Myanmar
  26. Rights Defenders and Promoters – HRDP in Myanmar
  27. Radanar Ayar Association from Myanmar
  28. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum), India
  29. Programme Against Custodial Torture and Impunity (Pacti), India
  30. Ammpo-Sentro – Association of Filipino Nationalist Workers in Malaysia
  31. Workers Assistance Center, Inc, Philippines
  32. China Labour Bulletin
  33. Women of Colour – Global Women’s Strike, UK
  34. Payday Men’s Network, UK
  35. Collectif Ehique sur l’étiquette, France
  36. Campagna Abiti Puliti – Italy
  37. Women Against Rape
  38. Payday Men’s Network, US
  39. Clean Clothes Campaign international office
  40. Jaringan Solidariti Pekerja
  41. Datuk Dr Ronald McCoy
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