Labour rights bodies have hit out at Malaysia's human resources ministry's proposal for employers to deduct 20 percent of foreign workers' basic salaries to prevent them from fleeing.
Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran on Saturday said the deducted amount would be kept in the Social Security Organisation (Socso) and any foreign worker could collect it when they leave the country after their work permits expire.
He said the proposal, submitted to the National Labour Advisory Council, is aimed at preventing foreign workers from fleeing and avoiding employers from incurring losses on investments to bring fresh workers in, according to Free Malaysia Today, a Malaysian newspaper.
Rights activists, however, say it will have adverse impacts on foreign workers, who include nearly one million Bangladeshis.
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Secretary-General J Solomon said the proposal, if implemented, would encourage “forced and bonded labour” and invite condemnation by international labour and human rights organisations.
Many employers have already been keeping their foreign workers' passports to prevent them from running away -- a practice which is illegal, he added.
Implementation of the proposal, Solomon said, would only make matters worse for the foreign workers, many of whom are living in unfavourable conditions and earning low wages.
“Such proposals should never be placed on the table for discussion as it is a violation of international labour standards,” he said, urging the government not to emulate the previous administration in protecting employers who violate international labour standards.
Adrian Pereira, executive director of North-South Initiative, a rights group, described the proposal as “shockingly embarrassing” and “anti-migrant”.
“The minister seems oblivious that withholding salaries is an indicator of forced labour and this will never be accepted by the global brands.”
He said withholding salaries was against human rights principles.
Tenaganita Executive Director Glorene Das said, “If workers are given a decent wage, decent work environment and a decent life, why would the employers fear their workers might run away? That's a vital question that needs to be answered.”
She said the proposal was “worrying” and “very corporate-driven”.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia's former Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar said non-payment of salaries and the lack of a proper channel for foreign workers to seek their rights were reasons many of them fled their employers.
“If they were to complain about a work issue, the management can cancel their work permit and this is scary for other workers. Once they have no permits and are illegal, it is very hard for them to seek justice.”