Experts urge Malaysia to fix labor rights

A vendor waits by her stall selling local products at the Pasar Besar Kedai Payang central market in Kuala Terengganu, in the eastern Malaysian state of Terengganu, on June 26, 2020, as sectors of the economy are being reopened following restrictions to halt the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 27 June 2020

Experts urge Malaysia to fix labor rights

  • The Malaysian Statistics Department forecasts that at least 1 million Malaysians will be out of work by year-end

KUALA LUMPUR: Experts and labor rights advocates are urging the Malaysian government to address labor issues in the country following the decision by the authorities to put a stop to the recruitment of foreign workers.

“We will not allow foreign workers until year-end. They (foreigners) can come as tourists, if they are allowed,” said Malaysian Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan earlier this week in a report from state media Bernama.

The decision was taken amid the high unemployment rate and looming economic recession due to the coronavirus pandemic. The government hopes that the move will give priority to locals to take up vacancies.

The Malaysian Statistics Department forecasts that at least 1 million Malaysians will be out of work by year-end.

“We try to reduce foreign workers in the workforce besides giving priority to locals to secure jobs,” said Saravanan, adding that the government would evaluate the effectiveness of its policy by the end of the year.

As an emerging economy, Malaysia has a high dependency on low-skilled workers. According to the International Labour Organization, about one third of foreign workers are employed in sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

There are about 1.8 million foreign workers in Malaysia, but the number may be higher due to the employment of illegal immigrants and refugees.

Most of the foreign workers come from poorer countries in South Asia and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asia Nations), with the highest numbers from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and India.

Despite the call by the government for Malaysians to take over jobs from foreign workers, experts and labor rights groups warned that the government must address problems in the labor market, especially jobs that have been traditionally deemed as “dirty, dangerous and difficult.”

“We must not fall into the jobs for “Malaysians First” rhetoric as it may backfire later,” said Adrian Pereira, executive director of the North South Initiative, adding that the authorities must thoroughly study labor market needs and the availability of human resources, be they locals or migrants.

He told Arab News that the government must address serious labor and human rights abuses against migrant workers in Malaysia. “Forced labor has been normalized in Malaysian industries. It will not be fair to ask Malaysians to fill in those kinds of jobs,” he said.

Andy Hall, a migrant worker specialist, told Arab News that the government decision to get more locals to replace foreign workers might not be as realistic.

The global surge in demand for rubber gloves created by the COVID-19 crisis has expanded the need for cheap labor as production ramps up. Malaysia is the top supplier to the global rubber gloves market.

“It is normal across the world they say this. They would promote local employment and/or allow existing foreign workers who are irregular or unemployed to change jobs,” Hall said. “Will local Malaysians workers do the work, either at low pay and hard work or will employer/government subsidies pay more?”

However, Malaysian Trades Union Congress Secretary-General J. Solomon is optimistic and welcomed the government’s move but urged it to push for a better deal for blue-collar Malaysians.

“This is a positive move to check Malaysia’s overdependency on migrant workers and hopefully bring about a comprehensive review of the low salaries that would encourage Malaysians to take up the jobs,” he said.

Solomon told Arab News that automation must be made a top priority, as it would stop the vicious cycle of employers hiring legal and illegal migrants on low wages.



Pakistan rolls out coronavirus surveillance app for incoming travelers

Updated 11 July 2020

Pakistan rolls out coronavirus surveillance app for incoming travelers

  • 246,351 cases registered since late February

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has developed a mobile app to keep track of travelers entering the country through land routes and airports to ensure a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for those testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

“The app will be rolled out in a few days,” Shabahat Ali Shah, CEO of the National Information Technology Board (NITB), told Arab News this week.

He said the app would help record symptoms of the incoming travelers and keep track of their location. It would also communicate coronavirus test results to them and check if they were violating the self-quarantine requirement.

The government was testing everyone entering the country until recently. Many travelers were kept at big isolation centers established in hotels and marquees for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to government officials, the new app will eliminate the costs associated with the old quarantine protocols and maintain a better record of people’s movements.

Pakistan has registered 246,351 coronavirus infections since late February and over 5,000 deaths.

The government has also been carrying out contact tracing to test suspected cases and sent over half-a-million text messages to those who have come into close contact with COVID-19 patients, according to the Ministry of National Health Services.

“We don’t share contact tracing numbers with the public since they keep changing on a daily basis,” Shah said, adding that people suspected to have the disease were requested to get themselves tested.

Discussing the projections, he said the numbers of coronavirus cases would keep changing but that the government’s actions had proved successful in bringing down the country’s infection rate.

“Smart lockdowns in different areas have helped reduce the disease,” Shah said, adding the decision to lock down virus hotspots was taken on the basis of data collected by the NITB.

He said that the COVID-19 curve would flatten if the government properly managed Eid Al-Adha and Muharram processions in the coming months.

According to independent IT analysts, the app would prove ineffective if “big data” was not properly analyzed.

“Developing an app is not a big deal,” Mustaneer Abdullah, an IT expert, told Arab News. “The real task is to extract useful information through the algorithms and break it down in specific categories to achieve the desired targets. The trouble is that government departments lack that kind of expertise.”

He also pointed out that such apps were hazardous to public privacy in the absence of data protection laws since they sought permission from users at the time of installation to access their photo galleries, locations and contact lists to work smoothly.

“The data collected through these apps can also be a goldmine for scoundrels. People working with government departments could leak user information to digital marketers or fraudsters with total impunity.”