Loopholes in labour laws allows for forced labour

KUALA LUMPUR: The gaps in labour laws in the country present a significant challenge to addressing the forced labour issue, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

ILO technical officer Jodelen Mitra said the labour legislature in the country needs to be more vigorous to ensure its efficiency at the implementation level.

"The policy development in Malaysia has improved, even the ILO International Labour Conference has recognised Malaysia's capacity building in this subject.

"But there are still gaps in terms of enforcement, or there's no clear explanation on how the laws should be implemented," Jodelen told theSun in an interview.

Citing the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (Atipsom) Act 2007 as an example, Jodelen said the laws still have a provision that allows an employee's work permit to be entitled to their employer.

"Atipsom is the main law right now in terms of forced labour and trafficking but there are some gaps in the laws such as the work permit being entitled to employers.

"And it's a fact that the work permit is tied to the employer that could lead to workers having difficulties in pursuing legal action against the employers should they be subjected to forced labour and trafficking.

"Employers would usually react by cutting the worker's permit which leads them to be undocumented," she said.

“There’s also this Passport Act that prohibits employers from holding their workers’ passport but the implementation is somewhat insufficient, so we would like to work with the government in ensuring that this is implemented more effectively,”she added.

Jodelen also talked about the Minimum Housing and Amenities Act where it is currently applicable only to the plantation and mining sectors, and she urged the government to expand it to other sectors as well.

Another gap she said involved the Employment Act 1955.

“It has many provisions but it does not include the minimum wage for domestic workers and their working hours,” she said.

Jodelen said Malaysia is one of five pilot countries of ILO's "Forced Labour: From Protocol to Practice: A Bridge to Global Action on Forced Labour (BRIDGE)" project.

She said the project, which was introduced six months ago, aims to effectively eliminate traditional and state-imposed forced labour systems and to significantly reduce contemporary forms of forced labour, which are often linked to human trafficking.

"There's this openness (by the government) to work with ILO and we hope that they follow up with concrete action.

"We understand there are ongoing amendments going into the laws and we hope that ILO's recommendation could be addressed," she said.