Recent media reports about domestic worker recruitment agencies “making a killing” using undocumented migrant workers for temporary employment in exchange for fees as high as RM1,500 per worker have raised concern.
This phenomenon (as reported in The Sunday Star, 16 January 2011, ‘RM1,500 maid’) highlights the absence of proper legal regulation and monitoring of recruiters and out-sourcers.
The lack of such a system, let alone any guidelines, pertaining to foreign labour employment in Malaysia has resulted in a chaotic situation that appears beyond the control of immigration authorities here.
For nearly three decades, as migrant influxes rose and fell in volume and intensity with economic and political undulations in neighboring countries, the urgency of putting in place an updated system that could deal with these migration surges seemed to be lost on federal authorities.
Aliran has long called on the Government to revamp immigration laws to take into account the emergence of various categories of migrants i.e. irregular undocumented migrants and those falling under the purview of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as genuine refugees.
In the past, Aliran had recommended that the government accept help offered by UNHCR to set up a proper updated immigration control system, in which migrants could be assessed, categorised and dealt with according to appropriate procedures. The government, however, generally rejected assistance extended by UNHCR. Instead, it chose to maintain a hardline policy of Rela and immigration crackdowns on those deemed “illegal” under the Immigration Act 1959 and the non-recognition of refugees, in immigration policies.
Moreover, the Government continues to ignore calls by national and regional civil society organisations advocating the protection and promotion of migrant workers’ rights and urging the abolition of recruitment and out-sourcing agencies in favoor of government-to-government agreements and arrangements on migrant labour.
The neglect to legally regulate recruitment and out-sourcing agencies and monitor them resulted in Malaysia falling into the Tier 3 category for human trafficking since 2007, as per a US State Department Report. Only after such embarrassment and pressure from developed countries like the United States was there any apparent effort made to eliminate human trafficking through the enactment of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act as well as efforts to set up shelters for victims of human trafficking.
However, these overt efforts and regularly publicised raids on entertainment outlets, night clubs and karaoke lounges in Kuala Lumpur city and around the country appear not to have had noticeable impact on the exploitation of undocumented and documented migrant labour.
As the country is facing a shortage of domestic workers, Aliran strongly urges the federal government to consider legalising undocumented and irregular migrants within the country who would be willing to work as domestic workers and permit refugees to work under IMM13 visa. This would help to close the current labour vacuum for badly needed domestic workers here. This measure could be supplemented as needed by permitting a controlled flow of qualified foreign domestic workers into the country.
Aliran also calls on the government to view positively the proposed Civil Society Framework Instrument for the Protection and Promotion of Migrant Workers Rights presented to Asean member governments in May 2009 in Vientiane, Lao PDR. The government is urged to work positively in cooperation with the Asean Committee on Migrant Workers and drafters of the Asean Framework Instrument on Migrant Workers Rights to formulate and implement comprehensive, legally binding measures to ensure the protection and promotion of migrant workers’ rights.
Aliran executive committee
28 January 2011