PETALING JAYA: Cases of migrant workers being abused are rampant because the Employment Act is not enforced in incidents involving them, Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das said yesterday.

Malaysia has been on the global slavery index for a number of sectors previously such as the plantation and electronics sector despite having a good set of employment laws, she pointed out.

“When we approach employers to discuss the problems faced by their workers, we are told that all monetary claims made by the employees are paid to the agents,” Glorene told theSun.

“The main problem here is that the work is outsourced and the claims are paid. It is then up to the agents to pay the worker.

“Herein lies the problem; as far as the employers are concerned, they have paid and if the agent fails to pay the workers then it is not their problem.”

Glorene was commenting on a report commissioned by Tesco which found abuses against migrant workers at its stores and distribution centres in Malaysia and Thailand.

The UK-based grocery chain said this in its annual modern slavery statement. It hired a human rights consultancy last year to conduct the independent assessment.

According to a Reuters report, the company listed allegations based on interviews with 168 migrant workers in Malaysia and 187 in Thailand that included passport retention, unexplained and illegal wage reductions, heavy indebtedness to labour brokers and excessive overtime work.

In Malaysia, the passports of 68 Indonesian and 171 Nepali workers were withheld, while 15 passports and up to 30 work permits were withheld by a supplier in Thailand.

“All passports were returned to workers when passports are required for work permit renewal or other government purposes,” it said in an undated document.

It added that it also found that levels of indebtedness to service or labour providers were high in Malaysia.

The grocery chain said it has developed a plan to look further into the situation, including detailed investigations of specific allegations, setting up support lines and grievance mechanisms for agency workers in their home languages and guidelines to ensure workers have access to passports whenever needed.

Tesco stated it will also train managers on diversity and inclusion, review and improve accommodation and worker welfare audits, provide full remediation, including the repayment of recruitment fees, and shift to recruit migrant workers directly as a preference. It also receives intelligence internally and from suppliers.

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Migrant worker abuse rampant, says Tenaganita