Malaysian officials have thus far been unable to implement proper safeguards for the country’s swelling migrant worker population, a Malaysian senator said at a conference in Phnom Penh yesterday, amid mounting concerns about Cambodian workers bound for the country.
Speaking on the sidelines of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly seminar on the rights of migrant workers attended by more than 100 parliamentarians from across the region, Malaysian Senator Firdaus Haji Abdullah said cases of abuse were inevitable with a migrant labour force on the scale of Malaysia’s, which has outstripped the ability of local officials to properly regulate.
“Of course [any] government in their right mind [doesn’t] like to see that happen,” Firdaus said, citing recently reported cases of abuse against migrants working in Malaysia.
“But what I’m trying to emphasise is the problem of managing people of astronomical number – I mean this is the problem [Malaysian government officials] fail to see.”
During a presentation to the seminar, Firdaus presented Malaysian government statistics showing that 1,817,871 migrant workers were registered in Malaysia in 2010, 49,677 of whom came from Cambodia.
Undocumented workers, he added, are likely present in similar numbers.
“The country is filled by various opposing forces,” Firdaus said. “The government wants to cut back, but the employers want to retain their status quo.”
“I feel we need to cut them back, but again, the problem now – how do you do that, how do you cut them back?” he said.
“You can sum it up this way: migrant workers are an expanding problem faced with a shrinking solution.”
In 2009, the Indonesian government suspended its citizens from working abroad in Malaysia in the face of widespread reports of abuse.
Muhammed Oheo Sinapoy, a parliamentary member of Indonesia’s Golkar party who attended the summit, said Malaysia had since done nothing to rectify the problems that led his country to implement a temporary ban on sending migrant workers there.
“I haven’t seen any action from the Malaysian side or from any other receiving country’s side – including, for example, Singapore, or the other receiving countries like the Gulf countries – to ratify all [International Labour Organisation] conventions concerning migrant workers,” he said.
Heng Samrin, President of the National Assembly and current president of AIPA, acknowledged during a speech to open the seminar that Cambodians seeking work abroad faced growing difficulties and dangers.
“Labour migrants are frequently facing various obstacles, particularly women and young migrants that are sometimes being exploited, trafficked and forced to use drugs,” he said.
Hady Riad, a counsellor, at the German embassy in Phnom Penh, told the seminar, quoting a report, that 95 percent of all labourers from Cambodia who go abroad do so through illegal channels. “Cross-border implementation and cooperation is key to successfully regulate migrations in ASEAN countries,” he said.