WHENEVER the Government tightens its policies on the employment of foreign workers, we can be sure there will be complaints about additional costs and inconvenience, and disruptions in business and lifestyle. It reflects how much we depend on these workers.

It was no surprise then that many employers were unhappy about the introduction of the Employer Mandatory Commitment (EMC) on New Year’s Day.

In a statement issued the day before, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also Home Minister, explained that the EMC was to ensure that employers are fully responsible for the foreign workers they employed, all the way from the application stage until the workers are sent home.

A key change is that employers must now bear the workers’ levy. The practice of deducting the levy from the workers’ salaries is no longer allowed.

Other changes cover minimum standards for the workers’ accommodation, a written undertaking by employers setting out their obligations when hiring foreign workers, and a possible hike in the deposits paid by employers when bringing in these workers.

Many businesses say they were blindsided by this development, saying it came without any consultation or warning. They are worried about having to incur higher costs.

These concerns are valid, and organisations such as the SME Association of Malaysia and Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers are reaching out to the Home Ministry in the hope that there will be some softening of the Government’s position.

It is important though to properly understand the reasons behind the EMC.

The aim is clearly to better protect the foreign workers.

In his statement, Dr Ahmad Zahid pointed out that employers were extended the privilege of hiring foreign workers so as to fulfil industrial needs and support the nation’s economic growth.

However, he said some unscrupulous employers failed to honour their obligations to the foreign workers, and ignored the rules in matters such as the minimum wage policy, freedom of movement, and retention of passports.

He added that cases of employers passing the buck to the authorities to trace and send back runaway foreign workers, created opportunities for human trafficking.

This is a crucial point. Malaysia is on the Tier 2 Watch List of the US State Department’s latest Trafficking in Persons Report, which assesses how hard foreign governments fight forced labour and sex trafficking.

Malaysia has never been placed on Tier 1 but aims to be on it by 2020. To get us there, Dr Ahmad Zahid last August launched a five-year national action plan to combat human trafficking. Presumably, the EMC is part of that plan.

We are on a journey to becoming a country that can confront and eliminate human trafficking. This requires commitment, a long-term view, and perhaps some sacrifice. Hopefully, this will be on the businessmen’s minds when they make their case against the EMC. 4 January 2017

Source: http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/the-star-says/2017/01/04/unease-over-tighter-rules-on-hiring-of-foreign-workers/

The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ASEAN Trade Union Council.