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Indonesia takes action to protect its workers – but is it enough?

Is this a sign that we have failed to safeguard the interests of the millions of migrant workers in the country?

The roads travelled for work: Women migrant workers in Singapore and Malaysia - UN WOMEN GALLERY/FLICKR

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A recent news report “Indonesia to phase out sending domestic workers, says envoy” must sound the alarm bells in Malaysia.

But will it?

The report states:

Indonesia will focus on sending its citizens to work in Malaysia’s formal sector and phase out domestic workers who were more vulnerable to abuse and forced labour, said its envoy here.

Indonesian ambassador to Malaysia, Hermono said his country was not interested in sending large numbers of domestic workers to work in countries where labour abuses frequently went unpunished.

If a migrant worker working in a household can be abused, imagine what a helpless, nameless, unknown worker in a large plantation or at a huge construction project far away from the public eye might have to endure.

A promising Asian Tiger that worked hard at becoming a proud beacon in the Asean in the past, Malaysia today finds its reputation in question.

Our human rights record is deplorable. It is no more a secret.

In coming out with a progressive Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to protect the interests of its citizens, Indonesia unwittingly reveals how we in Malaysia have repeatedly failed to safeguard the interests of the millions of migrant workers in the country.

Today it is Indonesia. Tomorrow, it could well be Bangladesh, whose workers in Malaysia may also be vulnerable to abuse in our backyards.

Do our politicians and relevant custodians of this nation have no shame?

For how long more do we seek millions of cheap foreign workers so that stakeholders in Malaysia can reap windfalls?

Making money is not a crime. But making it at the expense of human rights and the dignity of labour and against all the religious teachings we proclaim – surely something must be wrong.

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We have depended on migrant labour for decades to build modern Malaysia. Should we not then be praised for taking care of them and returning the trust that neighbouring governments had in us?

Instead, our repeat records of abusive policies, exploitation and poor working conditions in some places make our progressive neighbours sit up and take appropriate action to safeguard the wellbeing of their citizens working in Malaysia.

Meanwhile, not only are we still clamouring for cheaper foreign workers, we are still unable to ensure that all our own citizens have the benefit of a decent minimum wage policy, without exemption.

If we truly love our nation, we must demand an immediate correction. Otherwise, we are all guilty of failing our own people.

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
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