KOLKATA, 28 AUG:Human rights groups have called on the Indian government to take action to guarantee the safety of Indian workers in Malaysia. According to some estimates, there are 1.5 lakh Indians at present working in Malaysia.
The groups raised the issue after a Malaysian workers’ rights group asked Cambodia to curtail the flow of workers to Malaysia because of increasing levels of abuse and exploitation of Cambodian domestic workers. They claim that many workers are forced to work like slaves.
Human rights groups said that the Indian government should reconsider a March proposal by the Malaysian government to recruit 45,000 Indian workers to bridge the shortfall of employees in various sectors.
Mr Suhas Chakma, the director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights in India, said, “The Indian government must note the possibility of Indian workers being subjected to serious human rights violations in Malaysia.” He recommended that the Indian and Malaysian governments sign an agreement to verify the credentials of companies hiring Indian workers and make a list of Indian workers, who have been issued a visa, available. Workers from Cambodia, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka head to Malaysia in search of work. A string of abuse cases, some of which resulted in deaths, led Indonesia to stop Indonesian women from working in Malaysia in 2009. The number of foreign maids in the country has fallen from 280,000 three years ago, to around 230,000 at present. Approximately 50,000 of these maids are Cambodian, and 30,000 of them arrived this year.
Earlier this month, the Indian government helped 17 Indians who had been harassed in Malaysia. “My boss hit me with a chair and forces me to sleep on a cement floor, without a mattress or blanket,” says 45-year-old cook Boominathan in one of the reports filed by a human rights group.
Mr Reni Ayline, national coordinator at the National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations, said that the government should closely monitor the issue. “Malaysia does not have proper rules and regulations to tackle such cases of abuse and exploitation. Our government is not aware of these things,” he said.
Mrs Irene Fernandez, executive director of Malaysian labour rights group Tenaganita, said in a statement, “There has been an increase in the number of human trafficking cases and the government remains complicit. Its unwillingness to address the human rights issues of domestic workers has deepened, effectively turning them into slaves.”
According to Tenaganita’s data, 56 per cent of the cases they deal with involve physical abuse, 26 per cent deal with sexual abuse, 25 per cent involve cases of malnourishment and 42 per cent involve workers who are forced to maintain two jobs.
The governments of India and Malaysia signed an agreement in 2009 to cooperate in employment matters and a joint working group has been established to discuss and resolve all serious issues. The government of India has also proposed that the Malaysian government should start a contributory social security pension and draft an employment contract.
The two sides have agreed in principle that the passports may be kept by Indian workers themselves, instead of being held by an employer, according to a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs. An official said, “Certain rules and regulations to protect Indian workers in Malaysia and look after their welfare and safety are in place.”