Low protection for migrant workers in Malaysia during COVID-19

Subject : Wages | Source(s) : CNBC | Date : 12-Nov-2020

Researchers say Malaysia has done little to protect low-wage migrant workers from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic — which could hurt an economy that’s struggling to recover. Low-wage and low-skilled migrant workers around the world have been among the most vulnerable as businesses cut wages and jobs to cope with the pandemic’s economic shock. Their predicament often is exacerbated by a lack of assistance from their host countries, as governments prioritize help for their own citizens. In Malaysia, thousands of migrant workers have reportedly lost their jobs. The International Labor Organization, the United Nations’ labor agency, said in a report that there were cases of migrant workers being unfairly terminated or not getting paid when Malaysia’s nationwide coronavirus lockdown was first imposed in March. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 undocumented or illegal migrants — who often seek work with unregistered businesses — were arrested in May when authorities conducted raids during the lockdown, Reuters reported. Those workers were placed in overcrowded detention centers that later became hotspots for the spread of Covid-19, according to local media reports. The Malaysian government has provided limited help to the workers, with a senior minister arguing in April that the workers are the responsibility of their respective embassies, according to Jarud Romadan, a researcher at Khazanah Research Institute. The not-for-profit institute is sponsored by Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional. Government response has been confusing at times, Jarud said at an online seminar organized by the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre in mid-October. He pointed out that authorities this year extended free Covid-19 testing and treatment to migrants regardless of their immigration status, and told undocumented migrants that they wouldn’t face any legal repercussions. But that amnesty was reversed, and authorities proceeded with the immigration raids, he said. The ILO similarly pointed out in a report that most Malaysian government support measures don’t cover migrant workers. Trade unions and other organizations have stepped in to help the migrant workers, including by distributing food and providing shelter to them, according to the ILO. Malaysia is home to around 2 million documented migrant workers, comprising around 15% of the total workforce, said Jarud. There are an additional 2 million to 4 million undocumented workers, according to estimates by the International Organization for Migration, an inter-governmental entity. In addition to little government assistance, those workers now face dimming employment prospects in Malaysia, as the government urges businesses to hire locals in place of migrant workers, said Jarud. He explained that the government has sought to justify that decision with three aims: Ease unemployment issues among locals, reduce Malaysia’s reliance on migrant workers, and encourage automation. Reuters reported in July that the Malaysian government said only the construction, agriculture and plantation sectors were allowed to hire foreign labor. A month later, the news agency said that restriction was lifted after some employers said they still needed foreign workers, although the government still encouraged businesses to employ workers. Over the past week, Malaysian local media reported that the government is considering issuing short-term work permits to undocumented migrants to ease the shortage of workers in the oil palm and rubber industries.

Link : https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/05/covid-19-migrant-worker-neglect-may-hurt-malaysia-economic-recovery.html

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