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Migrant workers in construction sector report maximum wage theft cases: MFA

Migrant workers in construction sector report maximum wage theft cases: MFA

A report analysing cases collected between 2021 Jan and May, reveals that out of the 1,113 wage theft cases collected, 59 % were reported by migrant workers in the construction sector.

Rejimon Kuttappan

More than 50 percent of migrant workers’ wage theft cases collected between 2021 January and May are from the construction sector, a report released on Wednesday by Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) and its partners reveals.

“The largest number of cases of wage theft that have been registered were from the construction sector (59%). This was followed by the manufacturing sector (13%), domestic work (10.33%) and retail (4%),” the report titled Crying Out For Justice: Wage Theft Against Migrant Workers During COVID-19 Volume 2, reads.

Between 2021 January and May, the MFA and its partners had collected 1,113 wage theft cases. Among them, there were 22 group cases and 175 individual cases.

According to MFA, wage theft consists of the total or partial non-payment of a worker’s remuneration, earned through the provision of labour services, as stipulated in a written or non-written employment contract.

It also includes the payment of salaries below the minimum wage, non-payment of overtime, non-payment of contractually owed benefits, the non-negotiated reduction of salaries as well as the retention of dues upon one’s contract termination

The report adds that, out of the 657 wage theft cases registered during 2021 January – May under the construction sector, 318 cases were from UAE, 165 cases from Kuwait, 135 cases from KSA, 14 from Qatar, and 8 each from Malaysia and Bahrain.

Meanwhile, out of 145 cases registered under the manufacturing sector, 75 cases were filed in Malaysia, followed by 59 cases in the Philippines.

The report reveals that compared to 2020, there has been a significant increase of cases of wage theft reported in domestic work, retail, and among office staff.

It also says that the majority of wage theft cases registered on behalf of female migrant workers were in domestic work (113 out of 201 total female cases and 115 total domestic worker cases).

In the report, MFA stresses that about migrant women workers, the vital action is of removing the risk from work rather than removing the worker from a risky situation, the onus of which falls upon regulatory and monitoring bodies of labour migration within the country of destination.

“2021 is the 10th anniversary of the adoption of C189 Domestic Workers Convention. The countries of destination and countries of origin must ratify this convention as a step towards ensuring and enabling protection based upon global benchmarks and not subjective policymaking,” the MFA adds.

Between, 2021 January and May, 38 wage theft cases were filed under the fishing sector, which was a major improvement of data collection from 2020, which had 20 cases.

All wage theft cases in the fishing sector were from Indonesia and destination countries were primarily China (accounting for more than 50% of cases), Taiwan, Sri Lanka, South Korea, and Singapore.
Out of collected wage theft cases, 753 cases were from documented workers and 359 were from undocumented workers (32.2%).

“Out of 359 cases, 39 cases of undocumented workers were female migrant workers, primarily located in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. A majority of them were from Indonesia, followed by Bangladesh,” the report adds.

Spreading Like Poison

While talking at the report launch, John K. Bingham, Head of Policy at International Catholic Migration Commission, said that both Volume 1 and 2 of the wage theft reports are ground-breaking and landmark.
“These reports help us to know where we are and let us know where we have to go to get justice,” he added.
Releasing the report, William Gois, the Regional Advisor for Migrant Forum in Asia, said that the “prevalence of wage theft is endemic to labour migration”.

“Wage theft is spreading like a poison across all job sectors,” William said adding that a fundamental change has to be brought in labour migration if we want to address the wage theft and build back better in the post-Covid-19 period.

Meanwhile, talking at the report release, Ms. Nahida Sobhan, Ambassador of Bangladesh to Jordan, said that “wage theft issues should be taken to global platforms and organisations.”

Professor Gibril Faal, Visiting Professor in Practice, London School of Economics, said that “there are many solutions available to address the wage theft issue, especially when technology is in an advanced stage.”
Sonia Plaza, a Senior Economist in the Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation Global Practice of the World Bank, said that wage theft isn’t new.

“It is important to bring in wage theft also in bilateral agreements in labour migration,” Sonia said.
Adding to what Sonia said, Katerine Landuyt, the ILO Specialist in Labour Migration, added that “bilateral agreements should also include a justice mechanism to address wage theft.”

Previous Report

This April, MFA and its partners had released the Crying Out For Justice Volume 1 report. Analysing 1,000 wage theft cases, collected mainly from Arab Gulf countries, between November 2019 to January 2021, MFA and its partners had released a report titled Crying Out For Justice: Wage Theft Against Migrant Workers During COVID-19 was released on April 7.

In that report, based on the cases collected, MFA had said that among the countries of destination, migrant workers who are either working or have worked in Saudi Arabia have registered the highest number of cases of wage theft cases (292), accounting for approximately 41.5 percent of the total cases.
It was followed by 129 cases registered from Bahrain, 66 and 63 cases from Kuwait and Qatar respectively. Forty-five cases were registered from UAE and Oman had registered 20 cases of wage theft.

Five Appeals

Last year on June 1, led by MFA, a large coalition of civil society organizations and trade unions, had launched an appeal to governments to establish an “Urgent Justice Mechanism” that addresses the plight of millions of migrant workers whose wages have been unjustly withheld by their employers.

Subsequently, the coalition released four more appeals focusing on concerted action to be taken by UN bodies, governments, and businesses in engaging with existing cases of wage theft and lack of justice as well as the creation and maintenance of effective mechanisms for continued progress.

While the first appeal had highlighted the basic initiatives to be taken for ensuring workers access to justice and redressal for current and repatriated workers, the second one had focused upon concrete mechanisms to be established such as the International Claims Commission, Compensation Fund, and reforms of national justice systems.

The third appeal had recommended responsible actions by businesses and employers, in particular, to prevent labour and human rights abuse and the fourth appeal had commended actions of certain States in recognising the need for migrant worker protection with further recommendations.

And the fifth appeal had focussed upon recommendations specifically for countries of origin and destination.
Subsequently, with a dedicated website for Justice for Wage Theft (JWT) campaign, MFA members and partners have been active in documenting cases received by them and their grassroots-level workers.


(The writer is an independent migrant’s rights researcher and journalist who contributes to MFA.)

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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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