We are dismayed to learn about the proposal that will allow Malaysian employers to deduct 20 percent of migrant workers’ salaries to prevent them from fleeing workplaces. The disturbing news came to light when two rights bodies submitted a petition to the Malaysian human resources ministry to cancel the proposal.
We are surprised that the Malaysian authorities would entertain a provision that would essentially cause immense hardship on Bangladeshi migrant workers who already have to bear the burden of debt incurred to raise money for exploitative recruitment fees. The proposal will only make things worse and amount to reducing workers into bonded labour. It is no secret that many migrant workers leave their jobs because they are either physically abused or their wages withheld or because they are overworked. Instead of mitigating these harsh circumstances, the authorities are considering a draconian rule.
There are around 800,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers; around one to two lakh are undocumented workers. The lives of these workers are far from easy—many have to worry about how they will pay off their debt while also sending money to their families. They have very little money to live on.
It would be a cruel decision to further burden them if their salaries were to be cut by 20 percent. Instead, the Malaysian authorities should focus on removing the exploitative practices of certain employers so that workers are not forced to leave those companies in the first place. As the rights bodies have pointed out, the proposal in question goes against international labour standards and would encourage forced and bonded labour. This is hardly what the Malaysian government would want and it would put a strain on its relationship with Bangladesh which has always been one of cordiality and reciprocity.