PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 April, 2010, 12:00am

Raw deal for migrant labour in Malaysia

In the article 'A united effort' (March 23), Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak outlined plans for the development of Malaysia's economy in which he stressed that fairness and equity must be core principles.

These principles are not being applied to the migrant workers who, according to Malaysian government statistics, make up at least 25 per cent of the country's workforce, and play a vital role in Malaysia's economy.

A recent report by Amnesty International, 'Trapped: The Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Malaysia', found that many migrants work 12 hours a day or more, often in unsafe conditions where they may endure physical and verbal abuse from their employers.

Most migrants come from countries in the region, many do not receive the wages they were promised and some are not paid at all.

They often have no contract and those with no legal permission to work in Malaysia may be unaware of their status. Others become undocumented when their employers fail to renew their work permits.

Migrant workers cannot easily return to their own countries: their employers often keep their passports and most need to repay large sums to recruitment agents.

The penalties for undocumented workers are severe.

They may be fined, imprisoned and deported. Amnesty International found such migrants were detained in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions which fell far short of minimum international standards. Judges often impose caning on illegal migrants: nearly 35,000 migrants were caned between 2002 and 2008.

Many of these workers in Malaysia are recruited through fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.

The US State Department's 2009 report on trafficking placed Malaysia among those countries that do not comply with minimum standards to combat trafficking and are not making significant efforts to do so.

The government of Malaysia facilitates trafficking by loose regulation of agents, abusive labour laws and policies, and by allowing employers to confiscate their workers' passports.

Some Malaysian immigration authorities engage in trafficking in people by delivering immigration detainees to traffickers.

Most migrant workers are covered by the employment laws in Malaysia but, in practice, the lack of effective enforcement by the Malaysian authorities means that migrants have few safeguards against abuse.

In his article, Mr Najib referred to the importance of expanding Malaysia's relationships with its regional partners. Allowing workers from these countries to be mistreated is surely not conducive to developing such relationships.

Mr Najib's government must act to end the scandalous ill-treatment that is being perpetuated against some of the most vulnerable members of Malaysia's workforce if his vision of a 'new Malaysian economy', based on core principles of fairness, is to have any credibility.

Sarah Carmichael, Southeast Asia co-ordinator, Amnesty International Hong Kong

Shark species are still at risk

Hong Kong's small conservation community had high hopes for the meeting in Doha of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

However, it failed to deliver much-needed protection to endangered shark species ('Bid to curb shark fin trade fails', March 24).

Countries like Japan and China created the illusion that everything is business as usual. Rather than letting research drive policy, commercial interests won out. The failure at Doha forces me to admit an ugly truth, namely, that Cites has nothing to do with protecting threatened species from unsustainable trade.

Instead, Cites ensures that trade decisions are conducted as if policies were passed at an auction house. Our hopes were high that the vulnerable would be protected. Instead, the governments lacking conservation credibility let commercial interests call the shots.

The choice at Doha was made: the price was right, so fishing species to extinction and ruining ocean health remains on the menu. Now it's up to us. At restaurants and hotels, and when picking wedding caterers, I hope we all choose wisely.

Ran Elfassy, director, Shark Rescue

Beautiful game needs facelift

Soccer is very popular in Hong Kong, especially the live late-night matches from abroad.

The game here must be reformed so that we can do better at the international level.

I would like to see the establishment of a single professional league. At the moment, attendance at matches in Hong Kong is poor. There is very little advertising.

Also, if we had better-managed professional teams, we would get more spectators. I also support the idea of having a six-pitch training centre at a Tseung Kwan O landfill site. Players would be able to hone their skills and this would improve the quality of the game.

If standards improved, soccer could become another tourist attraction in Hong Kong. In Spain, many tourists buy tickets to see top clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Practical ideas have been put forward to reform Hong Kong soccer and they should be adopted. The sport is badly in need of a facelift.

Tang Chi-chung, Tsz Wan Shan

Octopus option for taxi fares

I enjoyed reading the report 'Cabbies' pockets heavier with 50-cent change' (March 27).

All I can think is: do I really want these coins in my pocket and sitting in the change jar?

But, seriously, why are Hong Kong taxis the last group to hold out against the Octopus card?

Wouldn't this make life easier? Why do we still pay cash in our taxis anyway?

Stored-value cards are in use nearly everywhere else.

Maybe that is why Shanghai is a true threat to this city.

Ian Thomson, Sai Ying Pun

MTR fare rise is outrageous

The MTR Corporation plans to increase fares by an average 2.05 per cent.

This is outrageous. Recently, the MTR Corp squandered a fortune on full-page sponsored features in the Chinese and English-language press promoting the express rail link that will cost Hong Kong taxpayers at least HK$66.9 billion. The MTR will not fork out HK$1 for this service but will gain untold billions through property deals and retail operations at West Kowloon station. Now commuters have to pay for this unnecessary advertising expenditure.

If the MTR Corp wants to throw money away on political posturing, this should not come at the expense of the fare payer.

Commuters must now protest loudly at having to pay for services that are outside the scope of a responsible and prudent public transport provider.

The Director of Audit and the Legislative Council's transport panel must step in and determine how much the express rail adverts and any other ultra vires expenditure amounted to, as these items should be deducted from any computation used in the fare adjustment mechanism.

It could well be that, with all unnecessary extras stripped away, fares could be lowered, not raised.

Candy Tam, Wan Chai

Poor rush-hour bus service

The long-discussed and controversial government plan to widen Hiram's Highway near Marina Cove in Sai Kung was announced to commuters this week with notices erected along the route, including at the bus stop where each morning I stand waiting in blind hope of a rare seat on the 101M green minibus to Hang Hau.

They thunder by, all full to the brim with passengers who board in Sai Kung town, while the bus queues along the route and the number of people late for work grow ever longer and larger.

On a number of occasions this poor rush-hour bus service has forced me to return home, get in my car intended only for weekend use, and drive to work instead, passing the very bus stop from whence I came, increasing the number of cars on the road that the government wants to widen because of the increasing number of cars on the road. Fancy that.

Andy Gilbert, Sai Kung

Difficult to beat nature's work

There's little doubt about Lord Foster being a fine architect, but he just may have got above himself by trying to convince us in Hong Kong that what he has in mind for the West Kowloon arts hub open space will be better than New York's Central Park ('Arts hub design will surprise, Foster vows', March 29).

The park in New York is nature's creation, with the exception of some open fields and walkways, a small zoo and children's playgrounds.

To suggest he could do better than nature may just be a step too far, though it is an eye-catching statement.

Marian Schneps, Wan Chai

Enforce safety regulations

I refer to the letter by Wong Yin-ting ('Safety law not the answer', March 29), regarding the fatal go-kart accident in Tuen Mun in February.

Why should there be new regulations and calls [by other correspondents] for fresh legislation?

Rules and regulations only work when people follow them.

What is needed is enforcement of the rules, regulations and laws which already exist, instead of a stream of endless new ones as a result of knee-jerk reactions.

Ken Chan, Tai Po