Contributed by Adrian Anthony Pereirra, Larissa Ann Louis, Liva Sreedharan, Luela Mira Fuetes, Moganasundari M, Peter Barnabas
While everyone was rushing off to work on Friday morning, a handful of individuals scurried off to the Swiss–Garden Hotel Kuala Lumpur to attend the Capacity Building Program for 2017 on “Advocating for the Rights of Migrant Workers”, which began at 9:00 am. The first of its kind, the Capacity Building Program was conceptualised to further promote social dialogue between relevant stakeholders in advocating the rights of migrant workers.
This programme is jointly organised by the following organisations: Diplomacy Training Program (“DTP”) in partnership with Migrant Forum in Asia (“MFA”), the Bar Council Migrants, Refugees and Immigration Affairs Committee (“MRIAC”), North South Initiative (“NSI”), and Migration Working Group (“MWG”). This programme, which runs from March to December 2017, contains five modules that spans over a course of four days each. The first module was held from 31 Mar to 3 Apr 2017.
The participants of this programme come from various backgrounds and were pre–selected through an application process. For Module 1, they were divided into four teams.
The first module commenced with a team–building exercise, which required the teams to list key issues and priorities for migrant workers. This was followed by presentation of findings, and discussion with Executive Director of the DTP, Patrick Earle.
Team A started by tackling issues regarding the health of migrant workers in Malaysia. The first point made was the fact that some employers are able to pay off medical practitioners in order to certify their migrant workers fit for work even if they might not be. Secondly, migrant workers are deported immediately if they are found to have contracted some form of communicable diseases. In fact, some migrants who contracted some form of communicable diseases face deportation without knowing the reason for deportation. Lastly, children born to migrant workers face the threat of deportation, being stateless, and being denied access to medical care due to their lack of finances and their undocumented status.
Next, Team B spoke on xenophobia. After defining the word, Team B explained that the biggest concern is the State and media’s portrayal of migrant workers, which often perpetuates negative connotations such as “PATI” (pendatang asing tanpa izin), alluding that migrant workers are criminals. Furthermore, xenophobia can lead to unequal treatment between migrant and local workers. This can be seen in the unequal pay structure between a Malaysian worker and a migrant worker, with both categories performing the same tasks. Xenophobia also increases the social gap between local and migrant workers, resulting in the lack of interaction and subsequently, stereotyping and discrimination. Tension between the different groups of migrant workers, for example, between the Filipinos and Indonesians, is common too.
Team C presented on the issue of enforcement, or the lack thereof. They explored the lack of monitoring of private recruitment agencies in both countries of origin and destination. Migrant workers are also vulnerable to corrupt and exploitative practices, where their travel documents are often kept by the employer or agency, consequently falling prey to extortion and harassment. The final point made was on the lack of monitoring and enforcement on rent–seeking and/or bogus companies.
Team D ended Module 1 by speaking on the topic of gender. The point raised was that migration has caused a shift in family dynamics in the source countries, with families facing psychological breakdown, and some to the extent of having their children raised by neighbours instead of the core family. Team D pointed out the gendered dimension of domestic work and how it is disproportionately a woman’s work. Domestic workers are not recognised as workers per se, and do not enjoy all the protection contained in the Employment Act. In addition, migrant workers in Malaysia are deported if they are found to be pregnant, which is more often than not, a common clause in their employment contracts as it is often perceived as a “disease”.
Module 1 ended with the conclusion that there are overlaps between the four key areas discussed. It is important to recognise the intersectionality of these issues and to devise policies that address all issues comprehensively. Therefore, a comprehensive labour policy is much needed when dealing with migrant workers.