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Migrant workers in Malaysia feel pinch on ringgit

Dr Por Heong Hong points to a diagram yesterday during a presentation on challenges facing Cambodian migrant workers in Malaysia.
Dr Por Heong Hong points to a diagram yesterday during a presentation on challenges facing Cambodian migrant workers in Malaysia. Pha Lina

Migrant workers in Malaysia feel pinch on ringgit

Cambodian migrant workers in Malaysia take home about $100 less per month than they did two years ago thanks to the dramatic depreciation of the ringgit’s value, according to a study presented in the capital yesterday by Dr Por Heong Hong from the University of Malaya.

Titled Impact of Labour Migration on Women and Their Children, the study – which interviewed 54 Cambodian migrant workers in Malaysia – found that documented workers now earn between $257 and $403, down steeply from $329 and $514 two years ago (between RM1,150 and RM1,800).

Undocumented workers now earn between $112 and $268, compared to between $142 and $343 two years ago (RM500-RM1,200). The ringgit now sits at a two-year low of RM4.50 against the dollar, down from about RM3.50 in late 2014.

“If we earned about $300 per month before 2015, we can only earn about $200 [now]. It means we lost our money’s value when we exchange,” said Mormphun Monyta, a Cambodian worker in Malaysia’s manufacturing sector for the past 13 years.

Other issues highlighted in the study were the rising cost of living faced by documented workers, coupled with little understanding of entitlements under their work contracts and fear of harassment by authorities. Undocumented workers were found to be far more vulnerable, with regular bribery and limited access to clinics and hospitals for fear of being reported to authorities.

According to a 31-year-old Cambodian identified only as “FBS”, she had paid approximately $2,237 in bribes during her stay in Malaysia, leaving her with little savings.

But despite the unfavourable exchange rate and other challenges, most workers still indicated a preference to work in the neighbouring Southeast Asian country.

“Cambodian workers go to Malaysia because the conditions in Cambodia are worse . . . they go there to earn and save some money to remit home,” Por said, adding that many workers faced poverty and landlessness in the Kingdom.

“In Cambodia, we do not have a decent wage, yet we are expected to pay for rent and food. But in Malaysia, we do not need to pay for rent [as] we can get free accommodation from factory owners,” Monyta said.

According to Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour, there are about 40,000 Cambodian migrant workers in Malaysia.

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