KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 5 — Klang MP Charles Santiago today said that Malaysia needs stronger and more clearly defined laws on what forced labour means or the country would risk losing more businesses to other nations.

He said the current National Action Plan on Forced Labour 2021-25 (NAPFL) only has one out of 11 indicators of the International Labour Standards on Occupational Safety (ILO).

“With many nations adhering to the ILO Malaysia stands to lose out on much needed investments especially now when we’re recovering from a pandemic.

“Apart from clarity on what ‘forced labour’ is, we need an explanatory statement accompanying it so it is consistent with ILO standards.

“There are 11 indicators of ILO and we only satisfy one which is restriction of movements indicator defined as forced labour. What happened to the remaining 10? They’re missing so how to implement the law of forced labour?” he asked during a forum titled: “Tackling Forced Labour Issues in Malaysia: A civil society response to government policies.”

He said he and other MPs disagreed on approving the NAPFL Bill in Parliament as it was inadequate.

The ILO has adopted more than 40 standards specifically dealing with occupational safety and health, as well as over 40 Codes of Practice. Nearly half of ILO instruments deals directly or indirectly with occupational safety and health issues.

In Malaysia, human rights have been a sore point especially during the pandemic when Malaysia was in various stages of lockdown.

With many glove factories in Malaysia, most of them became billion-dollar companies when the demand for gloves and face masks skyrocketed.

Following that, cases of migrant workers forced to work long hours, some falling ill or even incurring fatal accidents as well as their cramped and close living quarters came to light.

This caused some companies to leave and stop production in Malaysia like the most recent case of Dyson. It found that its mostly migrant workforce worked up to 15 hours a day, were often asked to skip rest days to keep up with demand, and were coached to hide true working and living conditions from labour inspectors and Dyson.

Charles said he had brought up the issue with the Human Resources ministry but was told there were already laws existing to cover the other laws that were similar to the ones in the ILO.

Charles argued that most of these laws were under different ministries like the Passport Act and the laws on child labour and do not satisfy the definitions of forced labour.

“My suggestion to the ministry was that we need all 11 indicators in the NAPFL as part of the definition. Some would require Cabinet approval and thus far I have no updates on the status of the discussions,” he said.

Human rights activist Irene Xavier another speaker in the forum proposed allowing migrant workers to form their own union and to be elected as union excos.

“Review the bilateral MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) to prevent migrant workers from being trafficked to Malaysia. This is because so many migrants come to Malaysia documented then after a while become undocumented mainly because of the actions of their employers.

“Migrant worker management must move from the HR ministry immediately,” she said.

“Having two ministries has been very problematic and has led to a lot of abuse and forced labour,” she said alluding to the HR ministry and Home Ministry who handle various aspects of foreign labour.

Human rights activist Andy Hall said the current system in Malaysia surrounding foreign labour promotes forced labour.

He highlighted how migrants cannot change employers once they arrive in Malaysia. He said even getting them out of the country was hard, likening it to the Kafala System in the Middle East.

Andy said he struggled to get a whistleblower out of Malaysia months ago and still needed documentation.

“I couldn’t even get them out of KLIA without permission from employers,” he said.

He said such issues are not addressed in the NAPFL hence leaving the migrants helpless.

“One of the enablers of forced labour is systematic corruption which is prevalent across the government and its departments managing these issues.

“So how can the migrants trust the authorities? I know the HR ministry had a hotline for the migrants but how do you complain to the person whom you have grievances with, there is no trust and no one will trust them.

“If no one respects the law then there will be no implementation of the law and the issue of corruption will continue,” he added.