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ILO ‘forced labour’ findings should compel policy rethink in Malaysia

Our dependency on domestic workers is expected to increase; yet domestic workers are provided with the least protection

Domestic workers head to Malaysia - FILE PHOTO

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The latest report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) showing that one in three migrant domestic workers in Malaysia are working under “forced labour conditions” should jolt policymakers in the country.

This needs to be discussed in an urgent parliamentary sitting. 

The ILO found that 29% of the surveyed migrant workers in Malaysia live in conditions that meet the ILO’s statistical definition of forced labour.

This should be a cause for serious concern. Shamefully, we have fallen far below Singapore and even Thailand, where the rates are just 4% and 7% respectively. 

The ILO has identified some of the forced labour conditions, including excessive working hours, unpaid overtime, low wages, restricted movement, and being unable to quit as some indicators of forced labour.

Activists and NGOs promoting the safety, security and rights of migrant workers in Malaysia have for decades raised these concerns. But have we seen any structural reforms and the rewriting of employment values? 

Let’s not immediately dismiss this latest finding by the ILO. We need humility to admit our failures before we can even consider the much-needed changes the country desperately needs. 

In all three countries in the ILO study – Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – the domestic workers who were surveyed, on average, worked hours “well in excess” of those legislated for other workers. None earned the minimum wage, the ILO said.

We must concede to the ILO’s statement that “domestic work is one of the most important tasks in our society”. Our dependency on domestic workers is expected to keep growing in the coming years. 

READ MORE:  Study highlights forced labour amongst migrant domestic workers in Southeast Asia - ILO

Yet domestic workers are provided with the least protection.

Malaysia must have the moral compass to face past criticisms. In recent years, multiple incidents of Indonesian domestic workers being abused in Malaysian households have surfaced.

Meanwhile, several labour agencies have been accused of exploiting migrant labourers.

We need constructive changes to be brought up in Parliament and implemented quickly before we encounter repercussions from the migrant workers’ source countries.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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