`No win situation’ for foreign workers in Malaysia

April 27th, 2008 - 3:37 pm ICT by admin  

Kuala Lumpur, April 27 (IANS) Foreigners - forming 20 percent of Malaysia’s workforce - are caught in a no-win situation if they have a dispute with the employer, two lawyer-labour activists here have said. They can go to the labour court, but the avenue and the situation that they face does not ensure justice, the activists say.

The government disagrees.

Bar Council Legal Aid Centre’s Indian origin chief Ravi Nekoo said that while the law allows a foreign worker to stay in the country pending the disposal of his case, the worker is without a job.

Although foreign workers could file a case at the labour court or lodge police reports against their employers, this usually results in their work permits being cancelled by the employers.

“This leaves the migrant worker in a dilemma as he has no right to continue to be in the country without work and the capacity to earn a living,” Nekoo was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times.

He agreed that the foreign worker could apply for a special pass while waiting for his case to be settled. However, the pass does not allow a foreign worker to work in the country.

“So, how is he supposed to survive?” he asked.

Nekoo said the statistics released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour (United States) March 6 last year, quote figures given by the Internal Security Ministry as 42,483 individuals incarcerated in prisons and illegal migrant detention centres in the country.

Immigration department enforcement director Ishak Mohammed said they do not allow foreign workers with special passes to work in the country as this would create a loophole for illegal entrants to work.

“I cannot allow them to use the special pass to work and stay for as long as their case is being heard because there are hundreds of thousands of illegals in the country,” said Ishak.

“If we allow it, everyone would settle for that option including refugees, because it is an easy way to get work. We have found a few cases filed in court just for them to obtain a special pass.”

Tenaganita programme officer Florida Sandanasamy said not only does the pass forbid a worker from working, it is only valid for 30 days.

The application for the special pass itself takes months, during which the foreign worker’s status is illegal.

The application hits a dead end if the foreign worker does not have his passport.

Sometimes, says Sandanasamy, the passport is held by the former employer, which complicates matters.

“Most of them file cases because they have not been paid, and then this,” said Sandanasamy.

People, said Nekoo, fail to see the contribution foreign workers make to the economy.

“What is their offence? They come here to earn money for their loved ones. They should not be in this country if our economy cannot sustain them. The laws have to be more compassionate.”

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar last week said the number of foreign workers was three million, besides illegal entrants who took work at the cost of the locals. The policy would be to reduce dependence upon them.

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