Malaysia is 'heaven on earth' to migrant workers, says HR minister

This file photo taken on December 25, 2007 shows Bangladeshi migrant workers waiting in line for food donated by a goodwill charity group for Christmas outside the Bangladeshi High Commission in Kuala Lumpur. — AFP pic
This file photo taken on December 25, 2007 shows Bangladeshi migrant workers waiting in line for food donated by a goodwill charity group for Christmas outside the Bangladeshi High Commission in Kuala Lumpur. — AFP pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 14 — Despite prolific claims of abuses on foreign workers here, Human Resources Minister Datuk Richard Riot Jaem believes Malaysia is a “heaven on earth” to the millions toiling here compared to their home countries.

The first-term Cabinet member played down today a warning that brewing discontent among the country’s estimated two million migrant workers may lead to riots as broke out in neighbouring Singapore earlier this week, after angry South Asians protested in the republic’s streets following the death of a migrant worker who was run over by a bus.

“Malaysians ourselves don’t see it. We are so lucky. This is heaven on earth. We don’t need to go to some other countries to look for jobs, except of course, some of our talents have left to look for greener pastures,” the minister was reported saying by The Star Online today, after officiating an event at the Koperasi Bidayuh Kuching Bhd in Kuching.

“But based on the number who come here, and compared to the ones who have left, it is small,” he added, referring to the number of migrant workers who have flowed in and out of the country, looking for jobs.

Putrajaya had played “a good job” in managing its foreign labour, the Sarawak lawmaker reportedly said.

“If they are not happy, there would have been riots here already,” he was quoted saying.

Malaysia has registered 2.1 million foreign workers while an estimated 1.3 million foreigners are working here illegally, Deputy Human Resource Minister Datuk Ismail Abd Muttalib was reported saying in July.

Cash transfers by Malaysia’s foreign workers to their home countries doubled to RM20 billion last year from RM10 billion in 2009, Parliament was told last week.

The top five countries that received remittances from Malaysia in 2012 are Bangladesh (RM3 billion), Indonesia (RM3 billion), Nepal (RM2 billion), India (RM625 million) and the Philippines (RM561 million).

Last Sunday, some 400 South Asian migrant workers battled police and set fire to several vehicles in strictly-controlled Singapore that left 39 policemen and emergency workers injured.

The rampage erupted in the crowded Little India after an Indian worker was killed by a private bus driven by a Singaporean, Malaysia’s state news wire reported.

In its wake, Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) president Khalid Atan said poor working conditions, discrimination and low wages are like a ‘time bomb’ among migrant workers who toil in low-grade jobs shunned by most Malaysians.

Dissatisfaction among foreign workers here have so far been isolated to factories and other work places, Khalid said, but he warned that the disturbance in Singapore should serve as a wake-up call to Malaysia should an outbreak happen here.

He urged the Human Resource Ministry to hold a tripartite meeting between the government, employers and employees to work out a strategy to prevent rioting by foreign workers.

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