Monday, January 24, 2011

Burmese migrant workers: caught between a tyrant and a tiger (Guardian, 24/1/2011) - Sinometal(5)


Burmese migrant workers: caught between a tyrant and a tiger

Malaysia's economic boom has been driven by the exploitation of cheap migrant labour, from Burma and Thailand. Underpaid and with no rights, this is their story

MDG : Foreign workers in Malaysia
Malaysia's economic boom has been fuelled by cheap foreign labour. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images 

They were not illegal, nor criminals, not protesting nor agitating. For 900 Malaysian ringgits (around $290) a month they had travelled, through a broker, to the southern Malaysian town of Johor. There to bend the metal, mould the bars and solder the nuts that will bolt together the terrific rise in Asia's economies.

However the 35 Burmese workers found that, after two months, instead of the promised amount, they were to receive 640 a month, with no overtime pay, as promised.

So the workers organised, led by five individuals. They initially complained to their employers.

The employers immediately called the police, all 35 were detained on 12 January. No charges were brought, and 30 were released that day.

"Whenever workers do actually complain to their employers or against [them], employers tend to discriminate against them or even terminate [their contracts]," says pioneering Malaysian human rights lawyer, Charles Hector.

Before any legal rationale could be brought, or advocates or government bodies mobilised, the five leaders were whisked away to the airport for deportation, because, as Hector notes, "the employer wins by default if they are deported", they cannot compete in a labour dispute, and migrant workers are not allowed to be members of a union or stay in Malaysia without employment.

Out of the five leaders who complained, three have been forced back to Burma despite signing a three-year contract, two, however are missing.

Malaysia's growing "tiger economy", is driven by a workforce of around 20% migrant labour, with an estimated 500,000 from Burma, many of them illegal, taking their place at the bottom of Malaysia's semi-apartheid ethnic mix.

With GDP per capita hard to record in Burma, the IMF estimated in January 2009 that it was around $250. This compares with the IMF's 2010 estimate for Malaysia of $7,775.

Despite a constitution and laws pertaining to universal rights in Malaysia, law enforcement and other political precedence places migrant workers at immediate disadvantage. All companies in Malaysia that hire foreign labour are required to pay a levy. This is very often deducted from workers' pay, even though the practice was made illegal in April 2009.

Tun Tun, head of Burma Campaign Malaysia, notes that the overwhelming ethos is for employers to take responsibility for their workers as opposed to the workers having rights as individuals. He points out that when you arrive in Malaysia as a tourist, you need no visa and can rapidly leave the airport. However, migrant workers have to wait for their employer to pick them up and take them, in custodial fashion, to wherever they please.

Not all Burmese are just economic migrants. Many of those who eke out a living between the concrete apartment buildings and highways of Kuala Lumpur have fled political oppression in their homeland.

Kyaw Hsan was jailed in Burma at the age of 15. His "crime" was distributing pamphlets about democracy, with news and information that circumvented Burma's draconian military censors. He would leave pamphlets on the roof of a bus, so as it drove through the streets of Rangoon they would flutter down, as innocently as freshly falling rain. He was picked up outside a meeting of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy on 16 September 2000.

His confinement was marked with weeks of torture, including night-long beatings by teams of guards. This was followed, in 2003, by periods of up to 32 days chained to a wet floor with dozens of other prisoners for protesting the rearrest of Aung San Suu Kyi.

He contracted tuberculosis, which quarantined him for a further year after his release from Rangoon's colonial-era Insein jail.

Beyond the scars marking his body, and despite his affable nature, the psychological toll is unmistakable. At the time of writing, a combination of dislocation, alcohol and the breakdown of a relationship had led to angry outbursts, which saw him lose his job as a waiter.

In exile

The isolation is palpable in divided Kuala Lumpur. On a busy rush hour Kyaw Hsan intervenes to protect a young Burmese who has been set upon by up to a dozen Malays. They beat him and take his phone, but he mistrusts the police so much that a foreign escort to the station to report it is deemed necessary.

Ko Harun, meanwhile, has weathered exile for longer. He fled his native Burma because of thediscrimination faced by the Rohingya minority. The Rohingya, he estimates along with many observers, are the most oppressed minority in Burma; despite having been in the country for about 1,000 years, they are denied citizenship rights.

Since he left Burma he has been arrested four times in Thailand and five times in Malaysia. In Thailand he says he was caged up with gang members who would violently steal his rations.

He has been "sold" to traffickers by Thai officials, after being handed over by Malaysian authorities. He was lucky enough to be able to borrow the fee to remove himself from bondage.

Conditions in Malaysian jails are horrendous, causing what the Malaysian press call riots but are actually hunger strikes or peaceful protests, complaining about the overcrowding, the constant outbreaks of leptospirosis, a disease caused spread through urine-contaminated water, or simply the length of detention.

The two missing worker leaders have not been heard from. Like an estimated 190,000 other Burmese in Malaysia, they are at the mercy of a divided, hungry nation.

• Joseph Allchin is a journalist with the exiled Burmese news network the Democratic Voice of Burma.

See also earlier posts:-

Sinometal Case Update(3): 27 Workers Win, 3 send back to Burma, 5 still missing...

Sinometal Case Update(2): 2 Migrant Workers escape employer's attempts to send them back to Burma

Sinometal Case Update: 5 Migrant Workers being send to KLIA possibly to be send back to Burma

35 migrant workers arrested in Senai, Johor when they try to claim their rights from employer

About Sinometal (4) :- Migrants missing after rights case (DVB, 19/1/2011)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

‘Migrant rights? No’ - DVB, 20/1/2011

Tun Tun, BCM: ‘Migrant rights? No’

Tun Tun, BCM: ‘Migrant rights? No’ thumbnail
Tun Tun, head of Burma Campaign Malaysia (Joseph Allchin)
Published: 20 January 2011(Democratic Voice of Burma - DVB)
Malaysia is home to around 500,000 Burmese migrants, less than half of whom have been registered and thus hold a semblance of legal status in the country. Employers of migrant workers are often accused of exploiting their fragile existence in the country for their own gain, paying meagre wages and meting out abuse in the workplace. Tun Tun heads the Burma Campaign Malaysia (BCM), which campaigns for migrant workers’ rights.

How and why did you come to Malaysia?
I have been here for 17 years. I came because I was a student at Mandalay University and was involved in politics, and got in trouble so fled and became a migrant worker myself.

Following the case of 35 migrant workers who were arrested for asking for their contracts to be upheld, why did the police just end up targeting the five leaders?
In my experience in all the cases they always target the leaders. They think if they find and target the leaders the case will be settled, to scare the other workers.

What’s the relationship between the employers and the police?
That is a major concern here. All workers cannot speak out to the police. The police don’t understand the workers explanations. That’s the first problem. The second problem is that most of the law enforcement agencies here, whenever the local Malaysian people complain to them, they always take action against the foreigners – that is a problem. This was a labour dispute – it should have been dealt with in a labour court – but they never use this channel. They just use the police; they just arrive and arrest them and transfer them to immigration who deport them. It’s very easy for the employer and safe for the employer, so a lot of them use this channel.

How often do employers take workers documents?
According to Malaysian law, employers can’t keep workers’ documents, but the immigration department or police never take action against the employers. They all know that they keep the workers’ documents but do nothing. The Sinometal Technology Company took all their documents.

How do you advise migrant workers in Malaysia?
Wherever you go to work you can’t get good wages and you are not safe if you don’t keep your documents. Because you are not skilled, the employers will pay you around 700 to 800 [Malaysia Ringgit – $US230-260], so please don’t run away – if you don’t follow the contract we can’t help you.

How many illegal Burmese migrant workers do you think there are in Malaysia?
I think there are about 200,000 illegal Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia. The majority are men, very few women. They do various kinds of work – in restaurants, engineering, production, and so on.

Why do you advise them to keep hold of their documents?
The first thing is the levy. The Malaysian government charges employers a levy for employing foreign workers. Employers regularly deduct this fee from their workers’ salaries. However as of 1 April 2009 the Malaysian government announced that the employer cannot deduct the levy charge from the workers, but 90 percent of employers don’t follow this government order – they just deduct it. I had a case on 11 January where I complained about levy deduction from a workers’ leader named Hla Min, a Burmese migrant who works for DW Plastics Ltd, who complained for all workers when a total of 48,000 ringgits ($US15,730) was deducted.

Did he get in trouble?
No. They had no other problem apart from the levy. They wanted the employer to refund their money, so I went to the labour department and reported for them. In a month the employer will refund their money.

What happens when a worker is detained for not having the right documents?
Well, in Malaysia, if an Indonesian is detained they can get a travel document for 15 ringgits ($US5) per person and then they have to go back by boat or air. For our Burmese people, they have to pay their embassy 550 ringgits ($US180), or 900 ringgits ($US295). If you pay 500 ringgits you stay a very long time in the camp; if you pay 900 you get a fast process. Now workers are facing more problems because the Burmese government has introduced a new passport, so all the workers have to go the embassy and pay 4,000 ringgits ($US1310) per person, a very high price.

Why does the Malaysian government have these levies?
They want to reduce the number of migrant workers. They are facing a lot of social problems – they think it’s the migrant workers fault but it is not true. The Malaysian government is a pro-employer government; most of the politicians are nationalists, and that is a problem.

How is the experience of Malaysia different for different Burmese ethnic groups?
In Malaysia there are over 40 different ethnic organisations. Most are dedicated to registering refugees – in my experience they don’t concentrate on workers rights. I’m very sad about this.

How would you describe the UN High Commissioner for Refugee’s work for refugees here?
Every organisation is based on its members. Many of the ethnic organisations have good relations with UNHCR, but the UNHCR are also involved in a lot of corruption, particularly with registration of refugees and with resettlement.

How does it work with resettlement?

Three months ago, UNHCR resettled someone to New Zealand. The New Zealand authorities checked her biography and UNHCR had given a different biography, so the New Zealand authorities didn’t let her out of their camp. So it is very clear that it was a substitution for someone who is still here

Why? Did she pay UNHCR?
I think so, because at that time, one of my colleagues was resettled and he met this girl in the resettlement camp and he informed me.

How do migrants contact you?
We publish a newsletter in peninsula Malaysia. In this newsletter we have one article about migrants rights in Malaysia with our hotline number, so when they have a problem they contact us. We send the newsletter to Burmese shops around peninsula Malaysia and the shopkeeper sells it to migrant workers. It has no adverts and it is non-profit.

How difficult is it for migrant workers to access their legal rights?
I was also a migrant worker five years ago. My employer violated the law all the time.  I knew he was wrong but I couldn’t point out correctly. So whatever the employer said to us, he was right. So I wanted to know the migrant rights in Malaysia and tell all our migrant workers because if they knew about this then they can demand it [their rights]. So I tried to translate the migrants rights into Burmese and distribute it.

How has it changed things?
It has had a good effect, because we put here that the employer cannot deduct levies, and that they can contact us or the trade union congress whenever. So after the workers read this they know the employers are wrong and they contact us and work out how they can get it refunded.

In Malaysia migrant workers will get injured or have health problems. What is access to healthcare like in Malaysia?
Whenever a Malaysian goes to hospital, they have to pay one ringgit ($US0.30) for registration. For the migrant worker it is 15 ringgit ($US5) for registration. After we pay the 15 ringgit the doctor puts you in a check room and then he tells us what we need [financially], and then we pay a deposit. If they can’t pay, then a there’s a problem. They have to borrow to pay the deposit of, say, 500 ringgits ($US163). This is discrimination against migrants. It is not only in hospitals, it is in all government agencies – for example, if a migrant wants to open a bank account they cannot freely open an account; they need an employer recommendation letter, while for local people no letter is needed.

Are migrant workers dependent upon employers, and why is this system in place?
According to Malaysian immigration law employers are responsible for their migrant workers. For example when a visitor comes they show their passport and can enter Malaysia, but when a migrant worker arrives they are not allowed to leave the airport until their employer arrives to pick them up. Moreover, we receive a lot of complaints about working conditions for migrant workers. They are abused physically and mentally.

58 NGOs :Employers must pay all medical cost of workers especially when it is a work-related accident or an occupational disease.

Media Statement – 20/1/2011

Employers must pay all medical cost of workers especially when it is a work-related accident or an occupational disease.

We, the undersigned 58 organizations, groups and networks are appalled that the Malaysian Government is now asking about 1.5 million migrant workers themselves, and not their employers, to buy a new Foreign Workers Hospitalisation and Surgical Insurance. If these migrant workers do not do so, the Malaysian government is threatening not to renew their work permits. The Malaysian Health Minister, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, also stated that the worker’s work permits will not be renewed if there are outstanding hospital bills. [Bernama, 7/1/2011, Foreign Workers with Insurance May Enter Hospital without Deposit]

What is worrying is that workers should never be required to pay for their treatment and necessary healthcare especially if the reason treatment is sought is a work-related or industrial accident, or some occupation-related disease.

With regard to migrant workers in Malaysia, who are required to get a clean bill of health before they enter Malaysia, and before they are given a work permit, it is only right for employers to be liable to pay for all treatment and medical charges if they do get sick in Malaysia. Further, it is generally the employer that determines where these workers must stay and work.

In Malaysia, whilst the social security of local workers are covered by the Social Security Act, migrant workers are covered by the lesser Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952, which unlike the former do not provide for continuous regular support and assistance until death for a worker who is a victim of an industrial accident or occupational disease. The Workmen’s Compensation Act, on the other hand, only provides for a one-off payment to the victim and/or their dependents where death has resulted from the injury/disease, that is a lump sum equal to sixty months' earnings or RM18,000, whichever is the less.

It is good that the Workmen's Compensation (Foreign Workers' Compensation Scheme) (Insurance) Order 1998, extended coverage to personal injury (and death) that is sustained in an accident which occurs outside the working hours of the workman. Given this fact, there only needs to be a minimum extension of coverage to cover any remaining matters that will require treatment, hospitalization and/or surgery, and this could be done quite easily by amending the relevant Act and/or broadening the scope of the current insurance that employers already do have to buy for their foreign workers.

Malaysian Health Minister, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, was reported saying that this new insurance was to ensure that foreign workers’ medical bills in public hospitals, which to date total RM18mil, will not be a burden to the Government. (Star, 26/11/2010, Compulsory medical insurance policies for foreign workers from next year). However, this cannot be right as there should not be any outstanding migrant worker medical bills at all.

Under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, the employer is clearly liable to pay for the conveyance to the hospital, treatment, ward charges, medicines and other expenses incurred in the treatment and rehabilitation of such workmen (sec.15).  The employer is clearly liable to pay directly to the management of such hospital all fees and charges, and as such one wonders what unpaid medical bills the Minister is talking.

Further, attention also should be drawn to Workmen's Compensation Regulations 1953, in particular Regulation 18, which deals with the issue of excess fees, “A workman admitted either to an approved or a special hospital shall, where such hospital is a private hospital, himself be liable to pay the amounts of any fees or costs incurred on his behalf in excess of the maximum amounts prescribed by the Minister of Health under section 15 (3) of the Act, and, where such hospital is a government hospital, such excess amounts shall be paid from public funds.” Since, the Minister is talking about government hospitals, there is certainly no way that there exist outstanding medical bills when it comes to migrant workers.

The Malaysian pro-employer government has proceeded to further protect employers of migrant workers by limiting the maximum amount fees and cost that is payable by an employer under the Workmen’s Compensation Act. As of 1st March 2007 (PU (A) 077/2007), this maximum liability of an employer for ward charges, including surgical ward treatment fee is RM300, for operation fees it is RM250, for X-Ray Fees it is RM100 and for other electric therapeutic charges it is RM100.

The rates stipulated are outrageously low given the fact that government hospitals and clinics charge migrant workers first class rates, and the lowest deposit for a migrant worker who needs to be warded is RM400, and if it was a surgical case, it is RM800-00. Operation charges can range from RM50 to RM3,000 depending on the type of operation. Ultrasound cost RM100. Radiology charges range from RM50-RM600. Lab charges range from RM5 to RM100 depending on the type of tests, and usually there will be quite a lot of tests needed.

But, even when the government does limit the amount that the employer is liable to pay, the excess as stipulated in Regulation 18 of the Workmen's Compensation Regulations 1953 is paid from public funds, and as such there really is no logical reason why there can ever be outstanding debt. It is really hoped that in Malaysia, the government does not expect the migrant worker to come up with the money themselves before the necessary treatment and/or surgery is done. Employers should make all the necessary payments immediately, and should thereafter do the needful to claim whatever excess payment from the public fund.

The Health Minister is naïve to insist that the migrant worker only need to provide their passport before treatment is given, as in most cases the employers and/or the agent do wrongly hold on to the passports of migrant workers. Sometimes, the passports are with immigration authorities and/or some other authorities. Hence, in the name of justice, all necessary treatment must be immediately provided to migrant workers on their arrival and registration, without insistence on the production of passport and/or payment of any large deposit. Let not the absence of a document and money be the cause of death or the loss of limbs of a migrant worker in Malaysia.
It is also very wrong to threaten to penalize the migrant worker with non-renewal of work permit, when any punishments in law should rightly be against the employer and should not in any way jeopardize the rights and the well being of migrant workers already in Malaysia.

We, the undersigned groups, hereby:-

a) Call on the Malaysian Government to ensure that all employers of migrant workers, not just those that employ domestic workers and in the plantation sector, be liable to pay for this new Foreign Workers Hospitalisation and Surgical Insurance;

b) Call on the Malaysian government to ensure that no worker would be made liable to pay for the conveyance to hospital, treatment, ward charges, medicines and other expenses following a work-related accident and/or for some occupational disease.

c) Call on the Malaysian government to repeal Maximum Amounts for Fees and Costs (PU (A) 077/2007), and ensure that employers of migrant workers be liable to pay reasonable amounts consistent with the rates imposed by the government for medical care and treatment of migrant workers at government hospitals.

d)  Urge the Malaysian government to review and remove the differential rates being charged for Malaysians and other foreigners, especially migrant workers, at government hospitals and healthcare facilities.

e)   Urge the Malaysian government to review the policy of ‘No Treatment until Production of Passport and payment of deposits”, and ensure that all who needs medical treatment and care are immediately given the said required care that will prevent loss of life and/or limbs.

Charles Hector
Pranom Somwong

For and on behalf of the following 58 organizations

Archdiocesan Human Development Commission (AHDC)
Asia Pacific Forum on Women , law and Development ( APWLD )
Asian Migrant Centre(AMC)
Asian Migrants Coordinating Body in HK (AMCB)
Association for Community Development-ACD, Bangladesh
Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers in HK (ATKI-HK)
Building and Wood Workers’ International Asia Pacific Regional Office (BWI-APRO)
Burma Campaign Malaysia
Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP), Cambodia

Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
CCC  Netherlands
Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), Malaysia
Civil Right committee, Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall
Committee of Asian Women, CAW
Democratic Party for New Society (DPNS), Burma
Health Equity Initiatives
Hsinchu Catholic Diocese Migrants and Immigrants Service Center (HMISC), Taiwan
IMA Research Foundation, Bangladesh

INFID, Indonesia
Johor Textile and Garment Workers Union
Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP), Timor Leste
Labour Behind the Label, United Kingdom
Lawyers for Human Rights & Legal Aid, Pakistan
Legal Support for Children and Women(LSCW), Cambodia
MADPET - Malaysians against Death Penalty and Torture
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC)
Manggagawang Kababaihan Mithi ay Paglaya (MAKALAYA), Philippines
MAP Foundation, Thailand

Mekong Migration Network (MMN)
Metal Industry Employees’ Union, Malaysia
Migrant Care, Indonesia
Migrant Health Association, Korea
Migrante International
Migrants Rights Council, India,
Myanmar Youth Knowledge Initiative
Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM)
NGOs in Myanmar Web Portal

Penang Office for Human Development (POHD)
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor & Wilayah Persekutuan (PERMAS)
Pusat Komas
Sarawak Dayak Iban Assocoation
Solidaritas Perempuan (Women's Solidarity for Human Rights), Indonesia
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Malaysia
Thai Committee for Refugees (TCR)
Think Centre, Singapore
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), Singapore

UNI Global Union-Malaysia
United Indonesians Against Overcharging (PILAR)
Verite Southeast Asia
Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, France
WARBE Development Foundation-Bangladesh
WIRDA (Women Institute for Research Development and Advancement)
Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau, Inc. (WLB), Philippines
Workers Hub for Change (WH4C)


About Sinometal (4) :- Migrants missing after rights case (DVB, 19/1/2011)

Migrants missing after rights case thumbnail
Khun Hla Myint Oo, one of the migrants released after being detained following complaints over salary (Burma Campaign Malaysia)

Migrants missing after rights case


Published: 19 January 2011

Three Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia have been deported and an additional two have gone missing after requesting that their employers uphold contractual obligations over payment.

Thirty-five Burmese in total had been detained last week in Johor in southern Malaysia after complaining that the owners of the Sinometal Technology Company had paid them only 640 Malaysian Ringit ($US210) per month instead of the 900 Ringit ($US295) agreed when they signed the three-month contract. They also complained that they were not receiving overtime pay which had also been promised.

Thirty were subsequently released, but the three deported were deemed to be ringleaders of the group.

“On 12 January the employer made a fake report to the police and the police arrived at the hostel,” says Tun Tun from the Burma Campaign Malaysia (BCM). The police detained all 35 workers at around 10.30am but released the 30 at around 6:45pm, telling BCM that the other five were “under investigation”.

According to Pranom Somwong of the Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM), however, “they immediately sent five of the workers’ leaders to the airport, and tried to send them back to Burma”.

No legal charges against the workers were made clear to either advocates or the workers. Human rights lawyer Charles Hector, who advocates for migrant workers in Malaysia, says: “Honestly speaking, the police should not have got themselves involved in this situation where there was no protest and there was no criminal offence happening. This was a labour matter, but police are used by employers to harass migrant workers – this is common practice.”

The case is another indictment of strained labour relations in Malaysia, around 30 percent of whose workforce is made up of migrant workers. Tun Tun tells DVB that Malaysia is thus “a pro-employer country”.

The Kuala Lumpur-based Burma Workers’ Rights Protection Committee estimates there are about 500,000 registered and unregistered migrants from Burma in Malaysia. As of May 2009, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it had registered 50,000 people of concern from Burma, including refugees and asylum-seekers. Amnesty International claims there are a total of around 2.2 million legal migrants in Malaysia.

Hector believes the incident was aimed at “making the migrants believe that they can’t do anything against the employer”.

Access to the law in Malaysia is widely identified as a problem for Burmese migrant workers, meaning they are more liable to be abused by their employers. Tun Tun adds that the 35 did not speak Bahasa, the local language, and little English. As a result the BCM publishes the laws in Burmese in a newsletter called the Thuria Malaysia.

The 30 who were released returned to their hostel but found it locked and were unable to enter, forcing them to spend the night on the streets.

Through the intervention of groups such as the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, NAMM and the BCM, the country’s labour office became involved and was able to regain the jobs of at least 27 of the 35. As well as the fate of the deported three, concern abounds about the whereabouts of the two leaders whom no one has heard from. - Democratic Voice of Burma, 19/1/2011, Migrants missing after rights case

See also earlier posts:-

Sinometal Case Update(3): 27 Workers Win, 3 send back to Burma, 5 still missing...

Sinometal Case Update(2): 2 Migrant Workers escape employer's attempts to send them back to Burma

Sinometal Case Update: 5 Migrant Workers being send to KLIA possibly to be send back to Burma

35 migrant workers arrested in Senai, Johor when they try to claim their rights from employer

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sinometal Case Update(3): 27 Workers Win, 3 send back to Burma, 5 still missing...

Now, 27 of the 30 workers are back to work, and the employer has agreed that they will earn about RM1,000 per month, and will also get their overtime. There are still 3 workers in this group that is missing?? 

With regards the hostel where the workers were staying, the good news is that electricity and water supply has been restored today.

With regard the 5 worker leaders, which the employer took to KLIA with the intention of sending them back to Burma. It is confirmed that 2 escaped from the employer, and is on the run. The other 3 have been send back to Burma.

The matter is not resolved yet - for we cannot forget the wrong that Sinometal has done to its workers, and eventhough 27 have managed to get what they were complaining about, great injustice have been done to the 3 leaders that have been sent back to Burma, the other 2 leaders still on the run and the 3 other workers. 

We have yet to get any information from SUHAKAM, and one wonders how the employer managed to send the 3 back to Burma after the DG of Immigration was aware of what had happened. They had the said workers names, and passport number. Did the immigration department act to prevent this wrongful unjust act of the employer, or did they not? Certainly, the employer must pay substantial compensation to the workers that they send home - and this should not only cover all the expenses incurred by the said worker to come to Malaysia, but also maybe all the wages that he would have earned during the contract period... It will be difficult for the 3 workers to come back to Malaysia and file a case at the Labour Department/Court and/or the courts - and that is why SUHAKAM, the Labour Department and the Immigration Department should maybe ensure that the appropriate compensation and damages be sent and received by the said workers. Likewise justice must be done to the 5 other workers...still on the run? possibly from this employer?

Sinometal Case Update(2): 2 Migrant Workers escape employer's attempts to send them back to Burma

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sinometal Case Update(2): 2 Migrant Workers escape employer's attempts to send them back to Burma

The information that I have got, is that 2 out of the 5 workers that were taken to KLIA managed to escape from their employer, whilst the other 3 have already been sent back to Burma. (There has been a contrary information coming from SUARAM that the 3 have been taken to JB)

Apparently, with regards the remaining 30 workers, the employer has taken back about 12 and has agreed that he will comply with the earlier agreement and that these workers will now be able to earn between RM900 to RM1,000 per month. The status of the remaining 18 workers is still unclear.

I will try to keep you updated on this case.

Sinometal Case Update: 5 Migrant Workers being send to KLIA possibly to be send back to Burma

Migrant Workers should not be charged 1st class rates at government hospitals in Malaysia

Did you know that foreigners, including migrant workers, are charged 1st class rates when they go to government clinics and hospitals? Malaysian government treats migrant workers as 'medical tourist' and is reaping great profits from them.

I believe that migrant workers, for whom annual levy have been paid by employers, and who is really helping in the development of our country should not be charged at the same rate as other foreigners and/or medical tourists are being charged. They should be charged at the same rate as Malaysians
The other category of persons that should be charged at the same rate as Malaysians are foreign spouses of Malaysians.

It may be alright to charge foreigners a higher rate for medical treatment and care, but then, would it not be better that they are all charged the same. When Malaysians go overseas, would we not be wanting to be charged at the same rate that they are charging the local especially when we go to government/public hospitals. [With regard the private hospitals, they should be allowed to charge what they want - and I am wondering why the Malaysian government is interfering on the rates charged by private medical care providers] 

In Thailand, there is a government scheme than enables Thais to even go to private hospitals and be charged the same low rate that they are being charged at government hospitals - maybe our Malaysian government should explore this possibility...

Back to migrant workers who are being charged 1st class rates, here are some information that I just recently obtained at the government hospital.  The governing Act is Akta Fee 1951 (Fee Act 1951), and the rates now is as per Perintah Fee (Perubatan) 1982 [Fee(Medical) Order 1982]. Unfortunately I did not find this at our Health Ministry Website - or anywhere else. Should it not be freely available to the public?

First the payment required by Malaysians when they visit an hospital seeking treatment, it is RM1 if you are seeing a doctor, and RM5 if you are seeing a specialist. For the migrant worker, it starts with RM50 if you are seeing a doctor... more maybe if you are seeing a specialist.
Deposits Payable Where one requires to be warded
Then, the deposit payable by Malaysians who require to be warded, which depends on the type of treatment sought, i.e.Perubatan (Medical), Pembedahan(Surgery), Perbidanan/Sakit Puan (Maternity),...and then the whether one choses 1st Class, 2nd Class or 3rd Class.

Medical - RM700 (1st), RM200 (2nd), RM20 (3rd)
Surgery - RM1,100(1st), RM400(2nd), RM30 (3rd)
Maternity - RM800 (1st), RM350(2nd), RM15(3rd)
Pensioners - RM50(1A), RM40(1B), RM15(2nd), RM0 (3rd)
* Pensioners refer to those who are former public servants(a.k.a. government servants) - and sadly it just do not cover all elderly Malaysians above 55 yrs +

Foreign Nationals (including Migrant Workers)
Medical - RM1,400 (1st), RM600(2nd), RM400(3rd)
Surgery - RM2,200(1st), RM1,200(2nd), RM800(3rd)
Maternity - RM1,400(1st), RM1,000(2nd), RM800(3rd)

Well, for the Deposits where one needs to be warded, the charges is not exactly 1st class charges as seen above - but for all other charges, it will be 1st class charges...(In comparison, I have given the 3rd Class charges that Malaysians are charged)

Lab Charges
Foreigners (incl. Migrant Workers) RM5 - RM100 [depending on type of test]
*Malaysians RM2-RM25]

Foreigners (incl. Migrant Workers) RM50 - RM3,000 [depending on type of surgery, A-F]
Malaysians RM10 - RM200

Ward Charges
Foreigners (incl. Migrant Workers) RM80/day
Malaysians Free - RM3

Foreigners (incl. Migrant Workers) RM500[Normal Delivery] - RM1,000 [Cesarean]
Malaysians RM10[Normal Delivery] - RM100[Cesarean]

Ultra Sound
Foreigners (incl. Migrant Workers) RM100
Malaysians RM10 - RM50

Radiology Charges
Foreigners (incl. Migrant Workers) RM50 - RM600 (Depending on type, Z - AE]
Malaysians RM10 - RM120

Foreigners (incl. Migrant Workers) RM30 - RM250 (Depending on type)
Malaysians RM5 - RM50

Foreigners (incl. Migrant Workers) RM20 per session
Malaysians RM0 - RM5

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sinometal Case Update: 5 Migrant Workers being send to KLIA possibly to be send back to Burma

Sinometal Case Update: 5 Migrant Workers being send to KLIA possibly to be send back to Burma

Latest: 5 Migrant Workers being send to KLIA possibly to be send back to Burma

All the 35 workers of Sinometal did was to ask the employer to give them their rights as promised - and the employers reaction was simple, i.e. call the police and get all 35 arrested, and then now immediately try to send the 5 'leaders' back to Burma. They are apparently on the way to KLIA now.

Once sent off, the workers will have no more access to justice - for complaints about violation of worker rights must be lodged at the Labour Department, and for the hearing of the complaint until final determination by the Labour Office/Court, the presence of the complainant is a must. 

So, once these workers are sent back hurriedly like this, they have just no more reasonable access to justice. [Alternatively, employers terminate cancel permits...and the worker is undocumented - and have no choice but to leave Malaysia - and again no access to justice]

The Malaysian government must put into place a mechanism that determines that all outstanding workers' claims are fully settled, and there is no monies owing to the workers, before employer be permitted to send them off.

What Sinometal is doing to its workers who are demanding their rights should also be made into an offence to prevent bad employers from doing these kind of evil to their workers. 

For your information:-

* We have already informed SUHAKAM, and they have informed us that they have informed the Human Resources Minister and the DG of Immigration, and we hope that the attempt by this employer to break his employment  contract with his migrant workers after just about 2 months by sending them off to Burma will be prevented. Names and passport number of the 5 workers have been given to SUHAKAM.
* MTUC is also acting on this matter.

Than Myint Aung (A-459400)
Wai Yan Soe (A 459506)
Yan Naing (A 472053)
Thaung Naing (A 472051)
Myint Htoo Naing (A 472052)

The earlier post:-

35 migrant workers arrested in Senai, Johor when they try to claim their rights from employer

I have just receive information that 35 Burmese Migrant Workers were arrested because they tried to claim their rights as workers from their employer. There was no strike or protest - but the police came and arrested all the workers. At the time of writing, I have been informed that all the workers have been released,. except 5 workers who we believe are the leaders. The police say that they will be held overnight, and it seems that the employer may be trying to send the 5 back to Burma tommorrow.

Name of Company: Sinometal Sdn Bhd, Lot 73, Kawasan perindustrian Senai, Johor Bahur, Malaysia (this is the name given). I did a search on the net, and believe that maybe the correct name of the company is Sinometal Punching Technology Sdn Bhd, Plo 73 Kawasan Perindustrian Senai Phase 3 Jalan Cyber 5, Senai 81400, Johor. P: 607-5982212  F: 607-5983212

These migrant workers arrived in Malaysia to work about 2 months ago. According to the agreement, they to get monthly wages of about RM900-00, which would mean 3 hour overtime work per day. Since, they arrived, they have only received about RM640, and no overtime. The complaint to the manager and the employer but they refused to do anything.

Employer complained to the police, alleging that the workers are trying to protest, and the police came at about 10.30am, and arrested the 35 workers from their hostel and took them to the Senai Police Station.

By about 6.45 pm, 30 workers were released but when they returned to their hostel, they were locked out by their employer, and they had to stay by the roadside. Apparently some of the workers may have gone back to the police to complain.

This is a labour dispute between workers and their employers, and the police should never have interfered. Not only did the police interfere, but they also proceeded to arrest these 35 workers from their hostel....and this is so wrong. I am really curious as to what the offence is... I do hope the Johor Legal Aid would step in to help.

What you can do:-
1-  Disseminate this information.
2- Call the police and ask for the immediate release of the 5 workers still being detained.
3-  Write a protest note to the company
4- Urge the Minister of Human Resources and the Labour Department to intervene and resolve this employer-worker dispute.

More updates will follow.....

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Migrant Workers Forced To Buy Medical Insurance - What about Workmen’s Compensation Act ?

Wrong to threaten Migrant Workers - No Buy Insurance No Work Permit...No Hospital?

It is shocking that the Malaysian government is asking that migrant workers themselves, not their employers, to  pay for their own Foreign Workers Hospitalisation and Surgical Insurance. The exception being employers of domestic workers, and those in the plantation sector. I believe that this is discriminatory - and there is no justification why not all employers are required to pay.

Secondly, are not migrant workers already covered by the   Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952 (amended 1996)., which provide today coverage not only for accidents that happen at the workplace, but for all accidents anytime. The coverage also covers the cost of treatment, hospitalization, etc... and if what is provided for in is inadequate, possibly also by reason that migrant workers are charged 1st class rates at government hospitals and healthcare facilities, then the appropriate action would be to amend these laws to update the coverage so that it is sufficient to cover the exorbitant rate Malaysian government charges all foreigners, including migrant workers.

Since all forms of accidents are covered, and certainly all other forms of workplace related illness are covered, all that remain are sickness that are not workplace related. But, given that most migrant workers also stay in accommodations provided by their employers, hence employers should also be responsible to cover the cost of treatment of illness caused by close human contact and/or proximity, any which is by reason of poor accommodation conditions.  Hence, rather than insisting on another insurance, it may be best to just expand the scope of the insurance already existing under the   Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952 (amended 1996)..
If it is an industrial accident, are we saying that the worker is supposed to pay for it - and not the employer? This is absurd - for logically and reasonably, if it is an industrial accident, then the employer is duty bound to pay all monies to ensure immediate treatment, surgery, etc...

What is interesting is that migrant workers have no choice, and they are forced to buy this insurance only and not some other. And, if they do not, then their work permits will not be renewed...  Why do they have the choice to buy some other insurance?

Now, if their outstanding bill is not settled, their work permit will not be renewed. Is the Minister talking about present 'outstanding bill', or future outstanding bill? Why should migrant workers suffer for the failings of an employer. An errant employer who may no longer need the services of a migrant worker, despite the fact that the initial agreement may have been for a couple of years more can simply not settle the medical bill - and the worker's work permit will not be renewed, and he will be sent back to the country of origin prematurely. [Some say, why can't the worker fight and claim for breach of contract...the short answer is money and the fact that any court/tribunal needs the complainant/claimant to be physically present for the case to proceed, and a migrant worker with no work permit do not have the right to stay legally in the country...]. On a platter, the government of Malaysia has just handed errant employers another method to wrongfully and unjustly get rid of the worker when their services are no longer needed.
Liow said that any outstanding hospital bill must be settled by the foreign worker concerned or his employer before a work permit can be renewed.
Another matter of concern, was the assertion that migrant worker needing medical attention need ONLY to produce his passport. But, this is a problem because in most case employers and/or agents illegally hold on to the passports of migrant workers. And despite the fact that the Malaysian law requires the migrant worker to be able to produce his/her passport on demand, failing which it will be an offence, resulting usually in immediate arrest, detention, etc.. - the Malaysian government shows no political will to stop this wrong. Passports are used like leashes to 'control' migrant workers.  
"These foreign workers only need to produce their passport at the registration counter," Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said Friday.
I have knowledge of one case, where a worker who got injured in an industrial accident lost the usage of his fingers which could have been re-attached by surgery because the employer took time getting the passport and the required deposit to the hospital. Speed sometimes is essential for saving lives, limbs, etc - and it is hoped that Malaysian doctors and hospitals will not just stand by and see migrant workers die, or lose the opportunity of using one's hand by reasons like not having their passport, not having some medical insurance, not having enough money for deposit/treatment. Have we in Malaysia lost our humanity?

And the proposed insurance will cost the worker RM120, and the maximum coverage is RM1,000 according to the Bernama report attached. I just met a women migrant worker in Penang that took home about RM200 monthly wages, and so I wonder whether there is really any more money available to pay for insurance. Further, lowest deposit for a migrant worker who need to be warded is RM400, and if it was a surgical case, it is RM800-00. Operation charges can range from RM50 to RM3,000 depending on the type of operation. Ultrasound cost RM100. Radiology charges range from RM50-RM600. Lab charges range from RM5 to RM100 depending on the type of tests, and usually there will be quite a lot of tests needed. So, really do we think that RM1,000 coverage is sufficient? I  believe that there are certain that there are other insurance policies in the market that provides better coverage...

It is also wrong to impose a new obligation to buy insurance on migrant workers already here and working in Malaysia. It could be done for new migrant workers - who then at least the opportunity whether they do want to come work in Malaysia or not. 

Personally, I am of the opinion that all medical and healthcare charges should already have been borne by the   Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952 (amended 1996) that now provides 24 hour coverage to the migrant worker. If the provisions do not provide enough payment for medical treatment at government healthcare facilities, then the Act needs to be amended. If sickness, i.e. not work related ailments and/or occupational diseases, are not covered maybe the scope of coverage should be covered. If there is be any additional insurance, then rightly it must be the employer who pays for it, and also for any medical charges over and beyond the coverage of the said insurance policy. If there outstanding medical bills, it must be the employer that is penalised by way of a fine or being 'blacklisted' from being to employ new migrant workers, the present migrant worker's work permit must never be held as ransom until outstanding payments are made. We are talking about human beings here - not some car or motorcycle.  

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 7 (Bernama) -- Employees covered by the Foreign Workers Hospitalisation and Surgical Insurance Scheme need not pay a deposit or produce a guarantee letter to be admitted to a government hospital.

"These foreign workers only need to produce their passport at the registration counter," Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said Friday.

This followed the implementation of the Foreign Workers Health Insurance Protection Scheme on Jan 1 which provides for cashless admission, he said in a statement.

The insurance scheme provides coverage of up to RM1,000 with premium payment of RM120 a year.

Liow said that employers of plantation workers and housemaids are required to finance the insurance policies while other foreign employees must pay for themselves.

The foreign workers are given three months to buy the insurance policies.

"For this group, the premium payment imposed by the insurance company will be based on the remaining period of validity of the work permit," Liow said.

"Those who fail to do this (buy insurance policies) will not be allowed to renew their work permits."

Employers who advance premium payments for their workers must seek permission from the head of the manpower department to deduct from employees' salaries.

Liow said that any outstanding hospital bill must be settled by the foreign worker concerned or his employer before a work permit can be renewed.

Liow said that 17 companies have agreed to take part in the scheme, 11 of them from Jan 1.

The 11 are AXA Affin General Insurance Bhd, Berjaya Sompo Insurance Bhd, Jerneh Insurance Bhd, Kurnia Insurans (Malaysia) Bhd, Malaysian Assurance Alliance Bhd, MUI Continental Insurance Bhd, Progressive Insurance Bhd, RHB Insurance Bhd, The Pacific Insurance Bhd and Tokio Marine Insurance (Malaysia) Bhd.

Allianz General Insurance Company (Malaysia) Bhd, QBE Insurance (Malaysia) Bhd, Overseas Assurance Corporation (M) Bhd and Syarikat Takaful Malaysia Bhd will start their policies on Feb 1 while Oriental Capital Assurance Bhd will begin theirs on Feb 15.

-- BERNAMA- Bernama, 7/1/2011, Foreign Workers With Insurance May Enter Hospital Without Deposit