THE Labour Department has seen a 73-per cent drop in the number of complaints filed by non-professional foreign workers over the past three years, chiefly due to stricter enforcement and vigilance from the authorities on errant employers and companies.

In 2010, the department recorded 133 complaints from foreign workers 33 from domestic workers and 99 from those employed within companies, a dramatic decline from 2007, which recorded 496 complaints cases, with the majority originating from workers employed with private sector companies, particularly those involved in the construction and industrial sectors. Some of the key concerns raised by foreign workers included late payment or non-payment of salaries, illegal deduction of wages, abuse and poor working and living conditions.

These statistics were revealed during a recent Women’s Advocacy seminar where the head of the Labour Department’s enforcement section, Hj Zulhilmi Hj Abidin gave a talk on the rights of domestic workers in the Sultanate.

Hj Zulhilmi said the sharp decline in the number of complaints was in part due to strict enforcement of the regulations outlined in Employment Agencies Order which was introduced in 2004 “to control the activities of employment agencies relating to the private sector employment”.

Under the Order, the entry of foreign workers is controlled by the Labour Department and their welfare is protected from irresponsible employers. They are also accorded the same rights as Bruneian citizens under civil and criminal laws.

Hj Zulhilmi added that all new employers are briefed on labour laws and regulations and are encouraged to adopt “good employment practices, harmonious working relationships and mutual respect”.

Domestic workers are also required to be present during the signing of employment contracts so that Labour officers can brief them on their rights and obligations. They are also given the department’s hotline number if they need to report any abuse or complaints.

The senior labour official added the department plans to crackdown on illegal recruiters through stricter control of the licensing of employment agencies and that the department has increased the number of enforcement operations from 15 in 2009 to 78 in 2010 a four-fold increase. –Quratul-Ain Bandial, The Brunei Times/Asia News Network