PETALING JAYA, July 5 — Bosses are to blame for the big number of unregistered foreign workers in the country, especially after the nationwide swoop by the Malaysian Immigration Department last Friday, human rights groups said.
Transparency International Malaysia president Datuk Akhbar Satar said the current penalty of RM10,000 per illegal immigrant and five years jail under the Immigration Act was not heavy enough for irresponsible employers.
“Compared to what they are making, the fine is too small a price to pay, this is essentially human trafficking and should be addressed as such too,” he said.
“The Immigration Department must review and assess the right action to prevent the same disregard of the law from happening again.
“It is unfair the workers are bearing the brunt when employers have equal parts to play, they had plenty of time before this to get their workers documented but chose to scramble near the deadline.”
Akbar also said the Immigration Department should look into why middlemen are being used during the hiring process of foreign workers.
“The current system for obtaining permits is too tedious and costly, there needs to be a user friendly approach and permits need to be encouraged all the time,” he said.
Tenaganita programme director Aegile Fernandez said Malaysia needed to address the fact that many arrested migrant workers would fall under the category of human trafficking.
“I wonder if Malaysia’s aim is just to deport them, we are still cited in the United States annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report and the world is closely watching us,” said Fernandez.
She also said agents holding passports of migrant workers were also at fault.
“We do not have a bill or comprehensive policy to manage migration, it is unjust to arrest and detain migrant workers in detention centres as it is not their fault but the employers and agents,” she said.
“If this is the case, employers and agents should also have to experience the deplorable states in detention centres.
“Our policy in Malaysia suggests the onus is on the employer and agent, to process the permit, how will workers process their own permits if their passports are held, furthermore some are even charged a large sum to process the documents.”
Human Rights Commission of Malaysia commissioner Datuk Lok Yim Pheng said beyond ensuring workers have registered documentation, their rights must also be upheld.
“Human rights and workers’ rights should not be neglected, especially when many of these workers come here looking to survive,” she said.
“Health care is very important considering many of them work in the food industry.”
“Employers must also know that these workers are responsible for far more than themselves, they have families and lives in their home countries so it is not right to exploit them as we do now.”
She said while employers present the excuse of not knowing e-Kads were needed for their workers, the authorities must proactively engage with employers to increase awareness on the matter.
“If possible, there should be a body established comprising of employers, employees, authorities and even country representatives to safeguard the interest of all parties,” said Lok.
“We must start treating them like human beings instead of a commodity.”