Malaysia not safe for Indonesian migrant workers
Malaysia hosts approximately two million migrant workers from Indonesia who work mostly as domestic workers and laborers in the agricultural sector. A large numbers of these workers face problems because they are undocumented. Rights activist Irene Fernandez, the executive director of Tenaganita has been working to provide legal assistance to Indonesian illegal migrant workers. The Jakarta Post’s Ridwan Max Sijabat spoke with her at her office in Kuala Lumpur about their plight.
Question: What is your comment on the recent shooting deaths of three Indonesian migrant workers in Negeri Sembilan?
Answer: The Malaysian police have no authority to shoot them, even if they are criminal suspects. The police should have arrested and brought them to justice if they were caught red-handed committing crimes. Based on the report that we received, the three workers were not criminals or fugitives and they were not caught committing any crimes. The case must be investigated to prove the allegations that they were victims of human trafficking for human organs.
How should the case be investigated?
The investigation should be carried out independently with peer supporters from the two countries and the police must not take part in the investigation because they were involved in the incident. The independent investigation is needed to bring perpetrators to justice, to prove the allegations, to show migrant workers’ vulnerabilities and reveal the rampant corruption and collusion between employers and law enforcers and their impunity.
What do you think of the alleged organ trade?
The results of the forensic examination by the Indonesian police saying that certain organs have been removed from the bodies are preliminary evidence that they may be victims of human trafficking and therefore an independent investigation should be carried out. Labor and child trafficking as well as trade of babies has been rampant in the country over the past three years. In Serawak, women migrant workers who were victims of human trafficking were raped and forced to give birth and many Singaporean people have bought newborns from local syndicates at the price of US$24,000 per baby.
Do you find Malaysia is safe for Indonesian migrant workers?
Malaysia has no legal framework nor a particular law to protect workers. Even worse, the Malaysian government has upheld discrimination against housemaids and plantation workers, both of whom are excluded from the newly-issued regulation on minimum wages. Migrant workers have been objects of exploitation, physical abuse, violence and rape in line with the emergence of care giving industries and the privatization of health care, which are part of the neo-liberal capitalism which has damaged Malaysia’s economic system and raised inequalities among migrant workers, mostly women.
Malaysian employers who withhold their maids’ passports feel free to do what they want to their workers because they have bought them [maids] and they have their impunity because they have paid the police and bought court verdicts when workers sued against them. Too many migrant workers have become undocumented and developed troubles with authorities since their passports are withheld by their employers or sponsors. The Indonesian government should not resume sending workers to Malaysia until the government and employers change their mind-sets and make a particular law to protect them and their rights.
What do you mean by employers’ impunity?
Many employers have breached the harsh immigration law in employing undocumented workers, but they were not punished because they paid the police and immigration officers in a collusion to lay charges on workers.
In 2011, we recorded more than 1,500 cases befalling undocumented workers and 500 cases on employers’ violations of the immigration law. Most undocumented workers were deported after serving their jail sentence while most employers were cleared of charges.
What is your comment on the Malaysian government’s 6P program?
P is an acronym for Penipuan [cheating] and not for pendaftaran [registration], pemutihan [legalization], pengusiran [deportation], Pemantauan [monitoring], Penguatkuasaan [rehabilitation] and pengampunan [amnesty], because 1,000 of 1,300 workers arrested in the January-April 2012 crackdown have remained undocumented although they have paid between 2,000 and 4,000 Malaysian ringgits. Of the 1,000 workers who remained undocumented and victimized in the 6P program, 400 are Indonesians. We have already filed a legal complaint to the Royal Police against a local businessman who is allegedly involved in the fraud, cheating and trafficking cases in connection with the implementation of the biometric system in implementing the
What do you think of the labor agreement Indonesia and Malaysia revised recently?
Indonesian migrant workers, especially domestic helpers and gardeners, will continue developing troubles with their employers and authorities because the revised agreement does not identify their rights, the labor permit is still held by employers not by the government, the minimum wages are not set for new workers and monthly wages are paid monthly to workers. I appreciate the Indonesian government’s policy not to resume the sending of workers until the bilateral agreement spells out workers’ rights and the recruitment system is revised to put workers and their employers in an equal position.