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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs                 3  August 2011

Amnesty for illegal Indo workers

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Illegal Indonesian migrant workers should take advantage of the opportunity offered by an amnesty program for illegal foreign workers in Malaysia to strike better working agreements with employers, activists said on Tuesday.

The six-month amnesty program will register more than 1 million illegal migrant workers in Malaysia - the majority of them from Indonesia - under a biometric fingerprinting system.

The newly registered workers will then be able to choose to have their immigration status legalized and remain in Malaysia to work, or return to their home countries without having to go through detention.

Muhammad Iqbal, head of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (SPMI), said there were many undocumented workers in Malaysia because of high labor demand.

"But the complicated placement system in Indonesia and the high demand in Malaysia leads them to arrive on tourist visas, even though they are planning to go to work in the construction and palm oil industries," Iqbal said.

He said the amnesty program would give the illegal workers the opportunity to legalize their presence while reaching a new agreement with their employers to ensure better protection and working conditions.

"But the agreements will have to be endorsed by the Indonesian officials in Malaysia," he said.

He also called on the Malaysian immigration office to reject working permit applications presented without a work agreement endorsed by the Indonesian government.

Alex Ong, a representative of Migrant Care in Kuala Lumpur, said most of the construction and plantation workers toiled in dangerous conditions but without access to medical assistance from their employers.

"Most of them work like it is live-and-let-die," he said.

According to Alex, there is a shortage of 200,000 workers in Malaysia's construction industry and a deficit of 800,000 plantation workers in the palm oil industry.

"Malaysia is in dire need of foreign plantation workers since it is a strategic industry that has helped the country to recover from the financial crisis. It also needs foreign workers in other industries such as the electronics industry," he said.

There are an estimated 1.8 million foreign workers in Malaysia. Alex said 70 percent of them are Indonesians.

He lambasted the amnesty program, which he said was inadequately prepared despite looking good on paper.

"There's poor implementation in the field. There are not enough staff and locations for registration," Alex said. He added that the policy is prone to exploitation, and has become an instant gold mine for local brokers who act as agents for illegal workers in processing their registrations.


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