BWI OnLine – August 12, 2011

First Migration Strategy and Development Meeting Held in Africa

On July 22 to 23, BWI conducted the first Migration Strategy and Development Meeting for the Africa and Middle East Region in Johannesburg, South Africa as part of BWI’s Global Campaign on Migrant Workers Rights—BWI Connect.  The meeting, focused on three areas—review and initial assessment of mapping on migration flows within Africa; updates and reports of BWI affiliates work to date on promoting the rights of migrant workers; and discussing future strategies for the region in relation to BWI Connect.

The significance presence of key BWI leadership from the region—Piet Matosa, NUM of South Africa; Wafulla Wa Musamia, KQMWU of Kenya; Joshua Ansah, TWWU-GTUC of Ghana; Ayao Gbandjou, FTBC of Togo; and Nicholas Muzarura Muchapiwa, ZCATWU of Zimbabwe—signified the commitment and understanding of the important role migration plays within our sectors particular in a growing global economy.

Two guest speakers—Aureilia Segatti of the African Centre for Migration and Society and Liepollo Lobohang Pheko of the Trade Collective outlined migration flows in South Africa and the African continent.  These presentations were supplemented by reports by the Regional Policy and Campaign Director and the Sub-regional Project Coordinators from Kenya, Burkina Faso, Lebanon, and South Africa.  From these series of presentations, the following assumptions were made:

  • Despite media reports of influx of African migrants, mainly from North Africa to Southern Europe, the majority of migration is within the region.
  • Each sub-region within the African continent has its particular characteristics in terms of migration flows.
  • There is increased migration of Chinese workers within BWI sectors in the African continent.
  • In the Gulf, the migrant workers, which are predominantly in the construction, domestic, and service industries, outnumber the national population in some countries such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Oman.

The mappings were followed by presentations by the participating unions on outlining the political context and background in the respective regions in relation to labour migration as well as detailing the work of their respective union in organizing migrant workers and promoting their rights.  The greater part of the meeting was focused on discussing constructive strategies and developing concrete campaigns and activities to further promote and implement BWI Connect in the region.  It was recognized that each of the respective African sub-regions—West Africa, Southern Africa, East Africa, North Africa, and the Gulf—have its own uniqueness and thus programs needed to modified to meet the distinct characteristics of the respective sub-regions.

In conclusion, it was agreed that based on the initial mappings formulated for the meeting would be further developed and finalized as a final document for the region.  This would be the basis to work with the respective affiliates in the sub-regions to develop BWI Connect activities.

Human Rights Activist Fights Civil Libel Case Filed by Asahi Kosei

August 11, 2011:  Showing wanton disregard for the rights of migrant workers and human rights defenders, the Asahi Kosei, a Japanese company operating in Malaysia has launched a 3.2 million USD civil libel suit against human rights blogger Charles Hector.

In early February Charles Hector contacted Asahi Kosei over alleged human and worker rights violations against 31 Burmese migrant workers at the Asahi Kosei factory. Asking the company to respond to the allegations and correct any misinformation, Charles Hector repeatedly contacted the company before publishing a story on his blog after days of silence from Asahi Kosei.

In response to the publication of the blog Asahi Kosei launched the civil suit against Charles Hector, six days after they were originally contacted for their side of the story.
The allegations of the 32 Burmese migrant workers against the company are as follows:

  • The company has failed to pay the workers regularly. In addition, the wages being paid to workers are different to what was agreed prior to coming to Malaysia to work for Asahi Kosei;
  • Although permissible deductions are allowed according to Malaysian laws, the company has made several wrongful deductions such as 50 MYR for accommodations and 50 MYR in penalty for each day of absence. These deductions are quite high when one notes that the regular daily wages for the workers were 20 MYR;
  • On July 2, 2011, the company tried to forcibly repatriate two migrant workers back to Burma rather than resolving the matter through legal avenues and thereby, allowing workers to have access to justice;
  • Depriving workers who raised grievances against the company of cooking utensils, electricity and even accommodation; and
  • Attempting to process two workers to return to Burma on September 2, 2011 and October 2, 2011, when the two workers refused to agree to the new ‘agreement’. These two workers had previously gone to the National Human Rights Commission and Labour Department to lodge complaints on behalf of the 31 Burmese workers at Asahi Kosei.

The BWI is supporting Charles Hector’s case. The full court case is scheduled to be heard on 24-26 August. Before the hearing contact your nearest Japanese Embassy asking them to protect the freedom of human rights defenders and ensure responsible policies and actions from Japanese companies.

For more details and information related to the case please click here.

TWCF Files Petition Against the Government of India On Behalf of Migrants Stranded in Malaysia

August 4, 2011:  BWI’s affiliate in Southern India, the Tamil Nadu Construction and Unorganised Workers Federation (TCWF), which comprises of seven trade unions in the Tamil Nadu State, has been actively working on the rights of migrant workers for a number of years. Recently they have been active on case involving workers from this State who migrated to Malaysia for better job prospects. Instead of finding fortune, they found exploitation.

These workers were duped by a series of individuals involved in the chain of migrant labour recruitment—middle men, recruiting agents, and employers. In Malaysia, they worked for GSS News Agency which failed to pay their wages for several months, provided in adequate living quarters, and confiscated their passports. Upon hearing of their predicament, the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) took up their case and informed the BWI Asia Pacific Regional Office based in Kuala Lumpur.

The BWI Regional Office requested the assistance of the TWCF, which immediately provided details of the growing exploitation involving these migrant workers to the State Chief Minister and demanded urgent government intervention. The TCWF further urged the government to regulate the recruitment process and work towards implementation of an effective separate welfare board for migrant workers from the Tamil Nadu State. The TWCF believes that this new welfare board can provide necessary aid to migrant workers should they find themselves stranded outside of India.

Malaysia Implements Amnesty Program for Migrant Workers

On August 1st the Malaysian government’s new controversial amnesty for undocumented migrant workers began. The amnesty aims to gain an overall picture of the number of irregular migrant workers currently in Malaysia and issue them with documents for work or return them to their countries of origin.

Migrant workers who are currently undocumented and come forward will be biometrically registered and issued with documents and offered employment in sectors where there is a need, or will be deported at their own cost without penalty. Workers without documents who do not register during the amnesty, and are subsequently caught, will potentially face court action, be deported from Malaysia and blacklisted from returning. There are also reports that workers who are found to have run away from their employers will not be allowed to register and will be deported home.

The Malaysian government claims the amnesty will benefit migrant workers and give them the opportunity to access support and services; however, many labour and human rights organisations are still waiting to hear the full details of the scheme and how it will be implemented. Organisations such as the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) and Tenaganita have raised concerns about the lack of detail in the current scheme and the involvement of hundreds of organisation who will conduct the document checks and register the migrant workers.

In addition, there are concerns that, despite the scheme’s operating policy stating that employers should pay the registration costs for their migrant workers, the workers themselves will be forced to foot the bill. The charges under the amnesty program range from being free when conducted by a government agency to up to 35 MYR (8 Euros) with an official registration company and a maximum of 300 MYR (71 Euro) for the subsequent amnesty program for the worker. However, it has been reported that some companies are quoting prices as high as 1,000 MYR (236 Euro) just for taking fingerprints of workers as part of the necessary biometric registration.

Previous amnesty programs in Malaysia faced criticism for being a money-making scheme and this program has faced similar criticisms, but as it is in the early days of implementation it is difficult to determine if this will still be the case.
Ultimately, any scheme like this must be designed with the benefits of the migrant workers in mind. The lack of details make it difficult to forecast exactly what will happen under the scheme, but migrant workers must be protected from exploitation and unfair treatment during the registration process, and subsequently. Employers and agents must not use this process as an opportunity to exercise further control over the migrant workers under their care and employ.

The BWI supports schemes designed to provide irregular migrant workers with fair and responsible work and appropriate protections under the law to ensure they are not exploited and enjoy the same conditions as native workers. However, the BWI is cautious in its views on this scheme until the full effects can be seen. Time will tell whether the motives behind this amnesty are truly humanitarian or an attempt to further exert control over migrant workers within Malaysia’s borders.

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