KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 27 — The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) has today slammed the police and Immigration Department for detaining 171 migrant workers in Pengerang, Johor for allegedly overstaying.

In a statement today, secretary-general Kamarul Baharin Mansor said the workers who have been deceived out of employment by agents should instead be assisted rather than punished.

“MTUC is shocked by the actions of the police and Immigration in detaining foreign workers who have fallen victim to job scams.

“Victims of fraud should be assisted by providing them with employment opportunities. This is the cause of foreign workers entering legally but eventually being considered [undocumented migrants] after fleeing from employers due to deception,” he said in a statement here.

In response, MTUC said it is calling on the government to conduct a thorough investigation and identify all foreign workers who arrive in Malaysia with promises of job opportunities but end up without employment.

Mansor said MTUC has received reports of such cases happening from both external sources and directly from foreign workers.

He also noted that if this issue is not properly addressed, there is a looming risk of Malaysia falling to Tier 3 in the human trafficking report next year.

MTUC also reminded the government of the potential repercussions of allowing the entry of foreign workers without thorough scrutiny, cautioning that such lax measures could result in violations of labour laws.

This, Mansor said, will ultimately cause Malaysia to be labelled as a country endorsing forced labour practices.

“Companies take advantage of the foreign labour supply industry, which is seen as a goldmine. This industry is surrounded by various negative perceptions, including corruption, bribery, abuse of power, gangsterism, and cartels,” he said.

Citing the problem of foreign workers has resulted in a ban on glove and palm oil products entering the United States, Mansor emphasised the urgent need to prioritise protection and welfare measures for foreign workers to shield the country from reputational and economic repercussions.

Additionally, he said MUTC urges the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to launch a comprehensive investigation into the entire network involved in the recruitment of foreign workers.

Mansor said the investigation should begin with the companies managing foreign workers, proceed to government officials involved in approving their entry and to the companies accepting foreign workers.

“Until now, the issue of foreign workers has not been fully resolved. Asset seizures and imprisonment should be carried out to provide a lesson and a reminder that forced labour practices can damage Malaysia’s reputation,” he said.

On Monday, Johor police said the group of 171 Bangladeshi men was heading towards the Bayu Damai police station to lodge a report against their agents as they claimed they had yet to be employed after three to six months.

After their arrests, police said they were handed over to the Immigration Department for overstaying in the country under immigration law.