Amend Employment Act to cover foreign workers, says Professors Council

Delegates attend the National Council of Professors' Conference on 'National Dilemma:Issues and Challenges of Foreign Workers in Malaysia' in Kuala Lumpur, December 16, 2014. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Delegates attend the National Council of Professors' Conference on 'National Dilemma:Issues and Challenges of Foreign Workers in Malaysia' in Kuala Lumpur, December 16, 2014. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 — The National Professors Council (MPN) today proposed that the federal government amend the Employment (Amended) Act 2012 to cover the rights of foreign workers, as they are an important driver to the nation’s economy.

The council’s deputy secretary-general, Prof Dr Kamaruddin M. Said, said Putrajaya must realise that Malaysia will continue to rely on foreign labour - especially in labour intensive sectors - for quite some time to come and it is high time to accord them fair treatment.

“We have (an estimated) 6 million foreign workers. That is not a small number. We should get them protected by the Employment Act,” he said at a news conference.

There are around 2.9 million legal foreign workers registered in Malaysia, according to police figures cited in an earlier presentation at the MPN’s conference on foreign workers.

It is believed that there is one illegal immigrant for every documented migrant worker in the country, though both the police and MPN stressed that it is difficult to come to a conclusive number due to the elusive nature of illegal immigrants.

According to estimates by the Human Resources Ministry cited by the police, legal and illegal migrant workers have sent some RM25 billion back to their home countries in 2013 alone.

Kamaruddin said Malaysia must come to terms with the fact that it will continue to rely on foreign labour to keep its industries running, for the simple reason that there are not enough Malaysians to fill in the millions of jobs available.

Of the country’s 30 million citizens, seven million are still in school and there are an estimated 13 million new job openings in various sectors ranging from agriculture to manufacturing, he added.

“This means we must make sure foreign workers are treated well... we propose that we should change the term to guest workers, because legal foreign workers bring a very positive effect to our country,” he said.

Kamaruddin said Putrajaya also needs to revamp the existing system used to bring in foreign workers, who in many cases end up deep in debt even before starting work as they rely on employment agencies that allegedly charge high fees to get them jobs.

He said the MPN suggests that Malaysia enter into direct government-to-government arrangements with all countries that supply workers to Malaysia to shield the workers from exploitation.

In December last year, deputy Home Minister Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told Parliament that Malaysia no longer uses middlemen to bring in foreign workers, choosing instead to hire them directly from their country of origin.

His statement came hot on the heels of a report by Bloomberg, which claimed that labour brokers were still used to supply cheap, bonded labour from Third World countries like Nepal to high-technology production lines owned by international companies based out of Malaysia.