Migrant Forum in Asia
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Government, Malaysia Tighten Rules on Migrant Workers

The government reached an agreement with Malaysia this week to set up a joint committee that will place stricter controls on migrant workers, a government official announced on Wednesday. I Gusti Made Arke, the director general of labor placement at the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, said that after talks with Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Human Resources, the two sides agreed to assign officers at specific entry points in both countries to discourage illegal migration.

“We have agreed to set up a joint committee to prevent Indonesian workers from illegally entering Malaysia,” he said.

“The agreement has not been officially signed, but we will follow this up.”

The two countries are expected to hold a meeting next week to review an earlier memorandum of understanding on migrant workers that was signed in 2006.

Arke said both countries would oversee the placement of migrant workers in Malaysia. Harbors and ports will also be closely monitored to prevent illegal migration.

“Both countries will work on this matter,” he said.

“There will be Indonesian officers at every port, and they will closely check migrant workers’ documents.”

He said that migrant workers would not be permitted to enter Malaysia if they lacked the required documentation.

In addition, some migrant workers cleared by the government here may have to return home if the Malaysian authorities determine that their documents are incomplete.

Indonesian Ambassador to Malaysia Dai Bachtiar, on June 25, said that at least 3,000 migrant workers were heading to Malaysia every month.

There are currently about two million Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia, but only 1.2 million of them hold legal documents. They work as domestic helpers, construction workers and plantation staff.

Figures from January to June show that 16,727 migrants who allegedly lacked documents were deported from Malaysia’s Pasir Gudang Port in Johor to Tanjung Pinang in Riau Islands.

Illegal workers who lack proper legal documents are vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their employers.

Wahyu Susilo, a public policy analyst at Migrant Worker, a nongovernmental organization, said the agreement was not binding yet because it had not been officially signed.

“Our government should focus on the big meeting [this month],” he said. “They should fight for the rights of migrants.”

Proposed amendments to the tentative agreement include clauses requiring employers to specify days off and allow workers to take leave, as well as ensuring pay raises.

The right of workers to retain their passports is also being discussed. Workers’ passports are often held by their employers.

Anita Rachman, 10 July 2009

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MFA is a regional network of non-government organizations (NGOs), associations and trade unions of migrant workers, and individual advocates in Asia who are committed to protect and promote the rights and welfare of migrant workers.

It is guided by a vision of an alternative world system based on respect for human rights and dignity, social justice, and gender equity, particularly for migrant workers.

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