LLRC lambasts Malaysian Employers Federation for its inhuman statement on migrant workers’ right to change employment in the event of abuse

Press Statement by Labour Law Reform Coalition on 15 January 2022 in Shah Alam

Labour Law Reform Coalition is appalled by Malaysian Employers Federation’s (MEF) opposition to a proposal that called for allowing migrant workers to change employment as a means to end forced labour. MEF claimed it was unfair because employers would have spent a lot of money during the recruitment process.

We criticize MEF for its inhuman and money-minded statement. The employer association clearly turned a blind eye to abundant evidence of forced labour incidents in Malaysia as a result of the rigid employment system for migrant workers.

Trade unions and migrant worker organizations in Malaysia have observed a repetitive pattern of rights abuse – errant employers hold the wages of migrant workers, confiscate their passport to restrict their movement, terminate and repatriate them without pay, non-renewal of work permit and turn migrant into undocumented status.

The root cause of these problems is the power imbalance between the migrant workers and their employers. The employers can misuse the rigid employment system to threaten migrant workers to work as forced labour.

In a gap analysis on Malaysian legislation and the ILO Forced Labour Convention, International Labour Organization (ILO) recommends the Malaysian government to address the power imbalance by allowing termination of contracts and labour market mobility for migrant workers in the event of legal rights violations.

The ILO’s proposal argues that the proposed change will enable migrant workers to engage with the process of renewal of work permits and retain their own passports. It states that such measures can overcome the problem of migrant workers’ dependency on employers, they can voice out the forced labour situation with officials during the engagements.

Therefore, we call on MEF to willingly accept the proposal to allow migrant workers to change their employment in the event of rights violations. The employers’ expenses during the recruitment process should not be an excuse to condone violation of workers’ rights and criminal activities.

Please put people before the profit!

N. Gopal Kishnam & Irene Xavier
Labour Law Reform Coalition