For the last week, Immigration Department enforcement officers across Malaysia have carried out raids on workers’ living quarters as part of a crackdown on irregular workers without valid documentation. According to data compiled by the Building and Wood Workers’ International, there have now been a total of 12,892 migrant workers arrested by the Immigration Department, including thousands of construction workers.
“The habitual use of irregular migrant workers by the employers in Malaysia’s construction industry has created a human rights crisis,” said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. “Migrant workers are forced to work long hours in baking heat for minimal wages with frequent illegal deductions that frequently result in debt bondage, as well as suffering perversely high fatality rates.
“The recent raids taken by the government is a ruthless attack on the most vulnerable workers who unfortunately are seen as expendable,” Yuson continued. “We condemn these raids in the strongest possible terms, demand their immediately cessation, and urge the Malaysian Government to takes measures to guarantee the rights of the almost 13,000 workers that have already been arbitrarily detained.”
The raids began just after midnight on Saturday 1 July, as the deadline for the Government’s E-Card registration programme passed. The Straits Times reported a raid on a makeshift dormitory in Kapar in which enforcement officers rounded up 239 workers, 51 of which had improper documentation. A female worker from Myanmar noted that she was unaware of the deadline, and that her employer had told her not to worry about it.
Other workers have reported that obtaining the E-Card, a process that was supposed to be free, cost them thousands of ringgit through agents. Many migrant workers without correct documentation were skeptical with regard to the E-Card registration system, and have not registered for fear of exposing themselves to the authorities. In the lead-up to the implementation of the policy, Malaysian employers requested the Government extend the deadline, since numbers of registered workers were far below the Government’s target of 400,000 to 600,000. Malaysia is believed to be home to up to 2 million irregular migrant workers.
Malaysia has not been without criticism over this matter. The Indonesian Labour Minister has demanded Malaysian authorities stop the raids and detainments. Human Rights Commission of Malaysia commissioner Datuk Lok Yim Pheng noted that beyond ensuring workers have registered documentation, their rights must be upheld. “Human rights and workers’ rights should not be neglected, especially when many of these workers come here looking to survive".