20th Oct 2023 Malaysiakini: Long-awaited foreign worker management report declassified in Malaysia

Long-awaited foreign worker management report declassified in Malaysia

Comment from Andy Hall, independent migrant worker rights specialist, on the key recommendation of the independent committee.

A long-awaited foreign worker management report that is declassified has been released. Obviously, many things need fixing when it comes to the issue of migrant workers in Malaysia.

What more should the government do, and how does that exist alongside these committee recommendations?

There is so much of systemic corruption in the country relating to migration management. What we need is for the prime minister to take control of this issue, as the migration policy needs to be dictated by a prime minister because it is such an important issue for Malaysia. Putting migration under the auspices of the Ministry of Human Resources (MoHR) is naive and impractical, it won’t work on many levels.

You have so many migrant workers, and this needs to be controlled from the top. It cannot be controlled by just the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) because migration has three aspects — national security, economic security and human security. MoHA focuses on national security, so it is not the agency that should be controlling migration.

MoHR, in contrast, focuses on labour and labour protection, not security, health, economics and trade, so it’s not suitable either.

The prime minister needs to take control of this issue and have a task force at the highest level, whereby migration policy is developed.

The whole system of migration policy now is not working and it needs to be taken at the top and coordinated properly in the long term to take into account national, economic and human security issues.

I have always believed the issue must be under the PM’s office or an independent agency tasked with migration management.

Migration management is about human, national and economy security. Health, education, community, safety, jobs, security, so many issues.

Having the issue under ONE lead ministry is a disaster and cannot work. One ministry can be the secretariat for sure, but migration should be under the PM’s office.

The recommendation of the committee to place migration under the MoHR is impractical, naive and will not address the systemic governance and corruption issues that continue to plague migration, as a crucial area of public policy.

Long-awaited foreign worker management report declassified

Original source: Malaysiakini by S Vinothaa – 19th October 2023.

A confidential report regarding the Management of Foreign Workers, prepared by an independent committee and initially withheld from public access in early 2019, has now surfaced on the Human Resources Ministry’s website without any formal declaration of its declassification.

Sources in the ministry revealed that ‘The Report of the Independent Committee on the Management of Foreign Workers’ was published on Oct 13 with the government appearing to have yielded to repeated calls for its declassification over the years.

The latest and most significant call to declassify the report came this May, from the members of the committee itself who pointed out that the problems and issues identified by them seemed to continue unabated.

The 11-member committee set up in 2018 under the first Pakatan Harapan cabinet was led by former Court of Appeals judge Mohd Hishamuddin Yunus.

It was reported that the committee’s preliminary finding was handed over to the then-home minister Muhyiddin Yassin and later the full report was submitted to the Cabinet in May 2019.

Overt and blatant dishonesty

One of the report’s most glaring revelations pertains to the unequivocal identification of corrupt practices which it described as “overt and blatant”.

“The most absurd of these corrupt practices must be the questionable and non-transparent appointments of recruitment agencies or outsourcing entities for sourcing foreign workers.

“Many of these entities had been established specifically to undertake the activities granted even though it is obvious they do not have previous experience and track record in such a business.

“These firms are purportedly associated with politicians, serving members of the legislature or other branches of government or their family members, former government officials, and other proxies of these groups,” reads the report.

Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail

Yesterday, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail revealed that the country had an oversupply of 120,000 foreign workers in the service sector and 147,213 workers manufacturing sector.

Saifuddin admitted to elements of work permit abuse with the highest rate (of non-compliance) in the service sector.

The report was concerned that such corrupt practices that led to the escalation of costs and had adverse effects on workers, were the foundation and principal cause that kept them bound to continuously trying to settle their accumulated debt.

It points out that forced labour conditions provide the trigger for foreign workers to escape their predicament and inadvertently become undocumented individuals.

Corruption hiding in plain sight

Although the report does not name entities or individuals, it points out that there was a layer of corruption hiding behind seemingly legitimate business practices.

It revealed the practice of non-transparent outsourcing of public sector functions to preferential companies for jobs like providing biometric information, renewal of employment passes, and periodical health screening.

These were jobs previously undertaken by the Home Ministry, the Human Resources Ministry, and other relevant government agencies.

Significant structural change

The report boldly uncovers the gaps in the current system and identifies policy recommendations to the government, from recruitment and repatriation to foreign workers’ rights to redress.

However, its recommendation for the Human Resources Ministry to be the single authority to formulate and implement policies that govern the management of foreign workers in the country could prove to be the most significant structural change if implemented.

“The Human Resources Ministry is best placed to take on this role as its mandate already involves expediting the labour market needs of the economy and oversight of industry’s compliance,” the report reads.

To bring about this change, the government would need to review and repeal, among other policies, a cabinet committee decision on foreign workers and illegal immigrants from 2005 when the final authority was handed to the Home Ministry.

Through a National Foreign Workers Management System (NFWMS), the committee recommended that the ministry would be able to develop an integrated end-to-end single online system to administer all aspects of foreign workers management.

“This NFWCMS will remove the inefficiencies and unnecessary processes stemming from the current mix of manual, face-to-face, multiple electronic, and discretionary procedures.

“More importantly, the integration and digitalisation of currently outsourced processes and procedures will remove all forms of corruption, rent-seeking, monopoly, and market capture from the preferential appointment of service providers,” it said.

MP SPEAKS – We must win the war on forced labour

Original source: Malaysiakini by M Kula Segaran – 21st October 2023.

MP SPEAKS | Today I rejoice. After four years of urging multiple governments to make the Special Independent Committee on Foreign Worker Management report public, it had finally been declassified.

Thumbs up to the present government!

As the human resources minister in 2018, I initiated a transparent Special Independent Committee on Foreign Worker Management that was headed by former Court of Appeal judge Hishamuddin Yunus. The committee was sanctioned by the cabinet to study the horrible state of our recruitment of foreign workers.

This led to the publishing of a comprehensive report which included 40 recommendations that I presented to the cabinet for deliberation. There was even a special sitting of the cabinet just to discuss the foreign workers’ issues. 

Thereafter, the cabinet set up a committee headed by the chief secretary to the government to suggest how the recommendations/proposal should be implemented. 

Among the core recommendations of the Independent Committee was the establishment of the Human Resources Ministry as the single authority for the management of all foreign workers.

In 2019, the stumbling block was none other than then-home minister Muhyiddin Yassin. The report most definitely was never considered when he then became the prime minister through a coup known as the Sheraton Move. 

‘Look into all recommendations’

I reiterate my stand as recommended by the report, the responsibility of formulating policies related to the management of foreign workers should fall solely under the Human Resources Ministry.

I urge that all the report’s recommendations be looked into. I suggest a committee be formed by both the Human Resources Ministry and Home Ministry to look at the recommendations and see how they can be implemented. 

The report also explained that the Human Resources Ministry was best suited for the role as it already has the responsibility of determining the country’s economy’s labour market needs. 

It also recommended that a multi-tier levy system be introduced, that the public healthcare system provide equal healthcare fees for foreign workers and even an insurance plan outside of the Social Security Organisation’s (Socso) scheme be provided for migrant workers as part of protecting the physical and mental health of the workers.

To address allegations of forced labour, Malaysia must implement comprehensive reforms in handling foreign workers, prioritising human rights and ethical labour practices. 

We must win the war on forced labour. 

This can be done by ensuring enhanced and strict enforcement of labour laws, transparent and accountable recruitment mechanisms, regular and thorough inspections of workplaces and living quarters, the fostering of collaboration between the government, private sectors, and civil society organisations, efforts to empower and educate workers for their rights and align our labour practises with international standards.

See more: 26th Oct 2023: Malaysian PM Office’s Minister Azalina says govt to complete national action plan for business and human rights by 2024 amid global spotlight on systemic migrant forced labour in the country.

See more: 23rd Oct 2023: Response from the Ministry of Human Resources regarding an article by Mr. Andy Hall.

See more: 19th Oct 2023: Malaysia facing huge excess of 1/4 million migrant laborers.

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