• Office of YB Wong Chen

In order to contain the spread of COVID-19, we must safeguard rights of foreign workers

I will be having a web seminar at 3 pm today with several ASEAN MPs. The event is organised by ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) to look into the issue of challenges faced by migrant workers during this Covid-19 crisis.

Malaysia has 2.7 million legal migrant workers. The precise illegal migrant workers population is unknown but is estimated to range between 2 million on the low side, to 4 million on the high side.

This is the single largest vulnerable group in Malaysia, even before the Covid-19 crisis. Many illegal workers earn daily wages, most if not all would have lost their daily wage “jobs” by now under the MCO. They are hungry and soon will be desperate as their savings dwindle. The government has to look very seriously into this issue.

I will be hearing from my ASEAN colleagues of their views and government positions vis-a-vis how to help or repatriate them home. The government must implement an emergency stop-gap measure to feed, quarantine, and provide healthcare for them.

The SIngapore policy model to deal with migrant workers (they don’t have illegals) is far from perfect but it is something that we can learn, adopt and adapt. Singapore and Malaysia are net importers of migrant workers in ASEAN. Therefore, we should open a dialogue with Singapore and share views on how to address this issue.

When this crisis is over, there must be concerted efforts to repatriate and/or legalise the illegal workers. We need to also revamp how we treat migrant workers. We must ensure the provision of fair wages, dignity, rights and an ombudsman agency to safeguard their interests.

For too long, Malaysia depended on their labour to build our country. Now, we have to step up and be responsible for them; if not on moral grounds, then on grounds to safeguard our own health and social order. Bottomline, Malaysia cannot possibly contain the spread of Covid-19 by ignoring the plight of the illegal migrant workers.