Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) organized a parliamentarian’s visit to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 20-22 April 2018. The delegation was composed of members of parliament from Nepal and Bangladesh, and migrant civil society organizations.
The field visit aimed to aimed to promote and initiate dialogue on the cause of labour migration in Parliament through understanding of living and working conditions of Nepali and Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia. Through the field visit members of Parliament will have informed and evidence-based knowledge of the situation of migrant workers on the ground. The field visit as well aimed to strengthen collaboration among stakeholders in countries of origin in promoting the welfare and rights of migrant workers.
The programme is part of MFA’s continued engagement with parliamentarians as relevant stakeholders on the issue of labour migration and migrants’ rights given their crucial role as policy makers and with oversight function as well. With this, it is essential that parliamentarians are updated of the current situation of migrant workers to be able to craft policies that respond to the needs of migrant workers as well as in holding the governments more accountable in their obligations as duty bearers and to uphold the labour and human rights of migrant workers.
After Indonesia, Nepal and Bangladesh have the highest number of migrant workers in Malaysia. Malaysia, as a destination, has been subject to international scrutiny due to reported cases of abuse committed against migrant workers. Confiscation of travel documents upon arrival in Malaysia is also a common practice which severely impedes migrant workers mobility rights; the continued use of RELA Corps (People’s Voluntary Corps, a paramilitary civil volunteer corps formed by the Malaysian government in its operation), the arrest, detention and the deportation of undocumented migrant workers as a prominent strategy to address undocumented migration.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Consensus on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ASEAN Consensus on Migration) was adopted by the ASEAN Member States (AMS) during the 31st ASEAN Summit in November 2017, under the chairmanship of the Philippine government. CSOs have been advocating for ASEAN to adopt a framework for protection of the rights of migrant workers since the AMS signed the ASEAN Declaration of the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. The ASEAN Consensus on Migration falls short of the framework advocated for by migrant CSOs as it excludes undocumented migrant workers as well as migrants of non-ASEAN member states. Malaysia is a key destination country for both Bangladesh and Nepali migrant workers. How the Consensus document will impact migrants in Malaysia which hosts significant number of Bangladeshi and Nepali workers has yet to be seen.
The three day program included dialogues with missions of Nepal and Bangladesh, the National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), trade unions, CSOs, lawyers and migrant communities. The first day of the program members of parliament had a dialogue with the embassy of Nepal and Bangladesh, and SUHAKAM. The dialogue with missions highlighted the following key issues:
• Lack of resources – missions lack resources to address the needs of the growing migrant community in Malaysia. Both the Bangladesh and Nepal missions do not have enough staff to cater to cases of migrants in distress. There are very resources to hire lawyers to provide legal assistance for migrant workers. The missions also do not have temporary shelters for migrants in distress.
• Arrest and detention of migrant workers – given the rampant practice of passport confiscation by employers and recruiters, many migrant workers are arrested and detained as undocumented workers. Many of the migrant workers are not informed that it is their right to keep their travel documents, contracts and other work related documents. Missions are not immediately informed if a migrant worker is detained or arrested. In order to address the Nepal mission organizes a visit to detention centers at least once a month.
• Irregular recruitment – the practice of irregular recruitment was also highlighted by both ambassadors. Despite the cap on recruitment fees put by both Bangladesh and Nepal, majority of the migrant workers pay exorbitant recruitment fees. Missions also dealt with cases of stranded migrants who were promised jobs by their recruiters only to find out upon arriving that there are no jobs available. Contract substitution in the recruitment process was also seen as key issue.
• Abuse in the workplace – the missions also highlighted workplace abuse as a key issue they have to deal with. Missions have received cases of migrants abused by employers, non-payment of wages, migrants forced to work overtime with no pay, lack of occupational safety and health equipment, and inadequate living conditions.
The dialogue with SUHAKAM representatives recognized and call for the need for cross border relationship with counter parts in the countries of origin. As a result of the dialogue, it was recommended that a follow-up program bringing together National Human Rights Institutions to discuss issues of migration be organized in collaboration with MFA.
The second day involved meetings with organizationns working closely with migrant workers including among them the Bar Council Malaysia, the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) and a number of migrant Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). The meetings served as a opportunity to contextualize the situation of Bangladeshi and Nepali migrant workers by hearing from various actors who provide direct service to migrant workers. The different stakeholders recognize that the Government of Malaysia tends to response to outside/foreign pressure pressure and called for labour sending countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal to join forces in dealing with the Malaysian government particularly, in putting pressure to ensure the protection of their migrant nationals in the country. There need to change the narrative on migrants has to change where their contribution is recognized, seen as important part in developing the economy of the country and therefore, must be guaranteed protection and their rights to be upheld.
In the last day of the program members of parliament met with migrant leaders and communities to hear from them about the challenges they face as workers in Malaysia. During the meeting members of parliament listened to testimonies given by migrant workers. Migrant leaders as well shared their initiatives in line with providing support and assistance for migrants and their collaboration with CSOs in Malaysia. Members of parliament were also able to validate the information they received from the dialogue with missions, CSOs and trade union representatives.
As a result of the field visit members parliament recommended for a report of the visit be shared in parliament in Bangladesh and Nepal in order for parliament to be able to study and recommend policy reforms to better protect the rights of workers. It was also recommended members of parliament to be more active in monitoring the negotiations of bilateral agreements and MOUs with countries of destination. There was also a strong recommendation to hold an inter-parliamentary dialogue among countries of origin and destination.