Just last month, we wrote an editorial praising the Malaysian government for taking steps to bring foreign workers under its Social Security Organisation (Sosco) beginning next year. The country's human resources minister had said that all foreign workers, including the nearly one million Bangladeshis, would get medical and disability benefits. But a report published in this paper yesterday, a day before International Migrants Day, only brings confusion and fear about the fate of our workers. The Malaysian human rights ministry has now proposed that 20 percent of foreign workers' basic salaries be deducted and kept in Sosco to prevent the workers from "fleeing". This clearly is not a proposal which if implemented would help the workers—it seems consideration has only been given to business interests.
Labour rights bodies have already condemned the proposal, saying that it would encourage “forced and bonded labour” and be in contravention of international labour standards. As the executive director of one human rights organisation has pointed out, employers' worries of workers fleeing are a cause of concern itself—“If workers are given a decent wage, decent work environment and a decent life, why would the employers fear their workers might run away?”
As it is, we already know many employers confiscate workers' passports—which is illegal. The backlash that this provision could encourage forced labour is justified and worrying. We have heard the stories of workers who had no compensation and medical benefits. There are no proper channels for complaints for our migrant workers. These are the issues that need to be fixed. We strongly urge the Malaysian government to not go through with this proposal which would make all foreign workers, including Bangladeshis, more vulnerable and more at risk of being exploited by employers. The Bangladesh government needs to reach out too and speak up for its citizens and their rights.