Malaysian HR Minister Sivakumar – Zero checks for migrant quota approvals

Malaysian HR Minister Sivakumar

Malaysian HR Minister Sivakumar – Zero checks for migrant quota approvals – Comments by Andy Hall

See alarming news below from Malaysiakini stating that Malaysian HR Minister Sicakumar has scrapped all compliance checks on prospective employers of migrant workers in its rush to ensure an increase in the number of migrant workers coming into the country under the recently announced Relaxation of Employment of Foreign Workers Plan. 

Andy Hall recently wrote an Opinion piece on these concerning developments in Malaysia.

See here:  ‘Time to address corruption in Malaysia’s migrant worker management’

Malaysiakini 3rd March 2023: Malaysian HR Minister Sivakumar – Zero checks for migrant quota approvals only until March

Original source: Malaysiakini

Human Resources Minister V Sivakumar has warned employers not to take advantage of the ministry’s leniency on zero checks in its migrant worker quota application approvals. 

He said the relaxed conditions for quota approvals were temporary and that all companies would be checked in six months’ time. 

“Right now, we are not conducting any checks before approving applications, but don’t take this (leniency) for granted,” Sivakumar (above) said.

In January, the government announced the Relaxation of Employment of Foreign Workers Plan in five critical sectors – plantation, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and services (restaurants) – which would run from Jan 17 to March 31.

Apart from bypassing the premises checks the labour department would normally conduct before approving migrant labour quotas applications, the ministry was also fast-tracking approvals without checking the company’s premises for appropriate accommodation.

On that note, Sivakumar said that there is 1.5 million migrant labour in Malaysia who need accommodations.

Out of the existing accommodations, only 30 percent are certified by the authorities. 

“Just because we are not checking before approving their applications, doesn’t mean they can bring migrant workers without first ensuring they have appropriate accommodation.

“We advise employers to ensure there are adequate approved accommodations for their migrant workers before they arrived in Malaysia,” he told reporters after launching Centralised Labour Quarters in Jalan Melaka, Kuala Lumpur.

The relaxed preconditions include bypassing a requirement for employers to prioritise local workers – by advertising available vacancies on the ministry’s dedicated portal.

Under the plan, employers will be allowed to hire foreign workers from 15 source countries without going through the preconditions of employment and quota eligibility.

Responding to a case where a company in Penang had laid off its 102 local workers for migrant labour, Sivakumar said the labour department was investigating the matter despite the company having reinstated the local workers.

“The Penang company has agreed to reinstate the local workers they retrenched, but if we find they have broken the law, we will cancel their quota,” Sivakumar said, adding that their salaries would be brought up to date.

On Wednesday, Sivakumar issued a stern warning to employers that replacing local workers with migrant labour would make them liable to an RM50,000 fine for each offence and have their quota cancelled.

He also said the action of an employer or company to lay off local workers and replace them with migrant workers is an offence under Section 60M of the Employment Act 1955.

The Malaysian Trades Union Congress had also raised concerns over companies allegedly sidelining local workers over new migrant recruits who would be paid a lower salary, as such reducing overall operating costs.

Feb 13th, 2023: Andy Hall’s Perspective by FMT – Time to address corruption in Malaysia’s migrant worker management

Published here.

Original published link: Free Malaysia Today.

Malaysia’s new government has pledged to reform the country’s ineffective migrant worker management systems. Workers from 15 countries will be brought into Malaysia to meet the demands of labour-starved employers quickly, cheaply and effectively. Regularisation or “recalibration” schemes will ensure millions of irregular workers in the country become officially employed and legal.

The prime minister and the human resources minister have warned of a shake-up to migrant worker management processes, particularly regulating the role of “agents”. Malaysia’s home minister travelled last week to Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal to discuss achieving these lofty goals.

The new administration is right to focus on abuses by intermediaries (or agents) as a key cause of the abusive and ineffective migrant worker management in the country. Concerningly, however, nothing has yet been said about addressing ingrained corruption also embedded in these same systems.

Many migrant worker dependent industries in Malaysia use in-country intermediaries because they want to pay a “legal” fee to wash their hands of illegalities. Intermediaries engage with corrupt officials (allegedly linked to politicians) to secure migrant quotas for their clients, often bypassing official rules and regulations concerning accommodation quality and migrant-to-local employee ratios.

These same intermediaries, many not licensed under the Private Employment Agencies Act 1981, also facilitate recruitment of workers into Malaysia, regularisation of irregular workers, and worker’s housing and transport. Their service fees are high while their flight, hotel and even leisure activities are charged to workers and source country intermediaries. Employers are often billed the same costs.

When Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim implied these intermediaries, or “agents”, were the root cause of the ineffective migrant worker management processes in Malaysia, it’s only part of the reality. These facilitating actors are more often just vehicles for the ingrained corruption embedded for decades in these systems.

Payments of bribes by these intermediaries to corrupt government officials or politicians to facilitate recruitment and regularisation of foreign workers on behalf of employers or workers, need to end if we are to start solving Malaysia’s foreign worker challenges.

Bribes or kickbacks paid to ministry staff and Malaysian intermediaries by source country intermediaries must also stop. Currently, it is the source country’s manpower agencies that pay the highest commission to Malaysia that secure the most orders for recruiting foreign workers.

Allegations have been thrown at numerous Malaysian governments over the years of syndicates and systemic corruption in the way contracts have been awarded to private sector actors to manage overly complicated migrant worker management systems.

Worker and employer data management systems and software, multiple health checks both at source and destination, quota, security and visa approval processes, regularisation management – the list of bloated expenses involved in hiring a foreign worker goes on. The alleged profiteering must stop.

Regularisation processes for irregular workers are beneficial. Human, economic and national security gains arise from making workers legal in-country, given the failure over decades of numerous administrations to keep foreign workers regular, protected and employed.

However, bogus employers and intermediaries, including corrupt government officials and politicians, have extorted irregular workers as part of these regularisation processes for too long. Too many workers have been left irregular, in debt and at high risk of forced labour and modern slavery as a result.

All the bribes, commissions and costs involved in hiring a foreign worker are either paid for by an employer or a worker. That means vulnerable and often poverty-stricken workers coming into Malaysia from some of the poorest communities in the world continue to be burdened by these costs and end up in debt bondage, systemic forced labour, and hence modern slavery.

The new administration should consider the risks to vulnerable workers of securing and regularising foreign labour quickly to satisfy its industry constituents. The faster recruitment and regularisation are done, if corruption is not addressed, will result in greater risks to prospective workers and employers.

If the new administration doesn’t control spiralling costs by effectively revising migrant worker policies, ending corruption and properly regulating intermediaries and employers, the risks to vulnerable workers of forced labour from debt bondage will increase. Indebted slaves who involuntarily work non-stop in Malaysian companies to pay back their debt will become more commonplace.

This likely rise in abuse of vulnerable migrant workers will undermine Malaysia’s commitment to address forced labour and modern slavery. Malaysia’s economic security and potential for more inward sustainable investment could well be impaired as the international community and a global business community, increasingly concerned with due diligence and prevention of forced labour, retreat.

An effective migrant worker management system requires balancing national, economic and human security priorities of a state. Human security is the right of workers and citizens. Protecting migrant workers from abuse can easily exist alongside a strengthening of national security by minimising corruption and a strengthening of economic security by reducing unnecessary costs on employers.

The challenges for Malaysia in effectively reforming migrant worker management currently start not with ridding the system of “agents”, as the prime minister implied, but with tackling corruption. Then one can address the poor company practices before ridding the system of the often unnecessary, abusive intermediaries. The essential actors remaining after this reform then need to be made more professional.

One way to ensure responsible migrant worker recruitment is by ensuring employers cover all or most of the related recruitment costs for their workers. Then make selection processes for recruitment intermediaries that remain essential to be transparent and objective. Through a closely monitored open tender process, intermediaries get business based on the benefit they provide, and their ability.

There are indeed some ethical recruitment practices already existing in Malaysia and worker source countries. These need to be highlighted and scaled up in economically and practically effective ways.

Irregular worker regularisation processes should prioritise the rule of law and worker welfare. Corruption should end, and unnecessary intermediaries between employers and workers removed.

Finally, Malaysia’s migrant worker policy development processes and implementation systems need reform. Migrant worker policy should be developed and implemented holistically by a governance structure led by the prime minister, without one ministry dominating the discussions and outcomes.

Andy Hall is an independent migrant worker rights specialist.

See also: HR minister looks into Malaysian unethical labour practices by First Solar.

See also: Malaysian government to probe unethical labour practices.

Background Articles on Current Malaysian Migration Debates:

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