Photo taken from Suara Pekerja August 2007
Suaram’s Press Statement: 31 March 2008
Suaram regrets the statement by the Selangor Menteri Besar (Chief Minister), Khalid Ibrahim in calling for Suaram to put national interests before universal human rights on the levy issue of migrant workers. We are also concerned that the Menteri Besar, who came into power because the previous government had not sufficiently listened to the people, has shown scant regard for the views and opinions of civil society.
We wish to remind the Menteri Besar that the pre-ambler and first part of Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) manifesto in the recent general elections pledged the establishment of a constitutional state that upholds unity, integrity and human rights. PKR has also pledged its support for the People’s Declaration, which demanded for, among others, the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
It is based on these pledges that the people supported PKR and other opposition parties to form the state government in Selangor. The statement of the Chief Minister does not bode well with PKR’s electoral pledges.
Although we welcome the good intentions of the Chief Minister to reduce the reliance on migrant workers and to train unemployed youths in Selangor, we are of the opinion that the levy cannot and will not solve the problems as it is not addressing the root causes.
Firstly, the wages in the industries where the migrant workers ply their trade are too low. Locals, especially those with family, cannot survive with that kind of salaries. Thus, employers would choose migrant workers over local workers so long as the wages of migrant workers are lower than local workers. To rectify this problem, there should be a minimum wage policy to for all workers and this will effectively encourage employers to take local workers and reduce the reliance on migrant workers. The Chief Minister is reminded that the minimum wage of RM1,500 is one of the pledges in the PKR’s manifesto.
Secondly, the lack of rights protection for migrant workers in comparison to local workers makes them vulnerable to various forms of abuses and exploitations such as long hours of work, working in multiple work places, unfair reduction of wages, etc. Unless all migrant workers are accorded similar rights as enjoyed by local workers, employers will continue to prefer migrant workers than local workers.
Thirdly, many recruiting agencies have been reaping huge profits from the migrant workers. Unless these unfair and unjust profits are reduced significantly and laws are strictly enforced, unscrupulous recruiting agencies will continue to bring in migrant workers into the country at the expense of our nationals.
Fourthly, unless the widespread corruption which has facilitated the huge influx of migrant workers is addressed and a proper control mechanism in place, the number of migrant workers streaming into the country will continue to increase.
These are the four main causes of the problems associated with migrant workers, and they fall within the ambit of powers of the Federal Government. While the initiative of the Chief Minister to discuss the matter with the Federal Government on issues pertaining to the high levy and agency charges on migrant workers is most welcomed, the Chief Minister should additionally raise the said four causes with the Federal Government.
It is indeed in our national interests to accord migrant workers their labour and basic human rights so that local workers are well-protected against the ‘race to the bottom’ with migrant workers in terms of wages.
Be that as it may, Suaram cautions the Selangor Menteri Besar against the convenient subordination of what he refers to as ‘universal human rights’ to ‘national interests’. Human rights is indivisible, interdependent and universal. We would like to remind him that the protection of human rights is the foremost obligation of every government, and ‘national interests’ cannot be used as an excuse to shirk off responsibilities to protect fundamental human rights based on universal principles. This rhetoric of the Menteri Besar is most discouraging and regresses to language commonly known to be associated with the Barisan Nasional government.
Suaram once again calls on the Selangor Menteri Besar to halt the levy policy on migrant workers. We urge the Menteri Besar to call for a dialogue with civil society organizations to discuss a holistic policy on migrant workers. The state government should also form a consultative council on migrant workers’ issues and invite civil society organizations to sit in the council.
Yap Swee Seng