Tackling the issue of forced labour with laws and awareness

PUTRAJAYA: Unlawful salary deductions and failure to include allowances in overtime calculations under the Employment Act 1955 are among the forced labour activities faced by local workers, as listed in the latest Human Resources Ministry guidelines.

Its Minister V. Sivakumar (pic) said forced labour issues in the country were still under control and efforts to curb them, such as issuing guidelines, have been implemented.

Earlier, he launched a new initiative titled “Guidelines to Prevent and Eradicate Forced Labour Practices at the Workplace” at the Combating Forced Labour in Malaysia seminar here yesterday.

In cases involving foreign workers, the minister said the most common forced labour violations involved unpaid salaries and withholding of workers’ passports by employers.

“As of today, 272 employers have been slapped with compounds amounting RM2.17mil by the Labour Department while 128 employers were charged in court with penalties amounting to RM242,000 since Jan 1 this year.

“The ministry also opened 1,321 investigation papers against 645 employers for violating various labour laws including those that contained elements of forced labour.

“The employers were found involved in matters such as unlawful deduction of wages, failure to provide contracts and payslips, as well as failure to take into account several allowances when calculating overtime under the Employment Act 1955, failure to obtain a Certificate of Accommodation pursuant to Act 446 and failure to pay minimum wages under Act 732,” he said.

Sivakumar added that the enforcement action carried out was not to penalise employers but as a warning to prevent any future violations.

He said forced labour could be defined under the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) 11 indicators, namely abuse of vulnerable groups; deception; restriction of movement; isolation; physical or sexual violence; intimidation and threats; retention of identity documents; withholding of wages; debt bondage; abusive working and living conditions; and excessive overtime work.

He said his ministry has existing guidelines on forced labour but the new version would make it easier for all parties, especially employees, to know their rights and protect their welfare.

“We noticed that normally in forced labour cases, the reason given by employers is that they were not aware of the law, while the workers did not know how the law could protect their rights.

“These guidelines can assist employees and help both sides understand and acknowledge laws against forced labour,” he added.

Sivakumar said the guidelines are also aligned with the ministry’s goal of zero forced labour violations by 2030.

“Based on global statistics, up to 25 million people were victims of forced labour. The Asia Pacific region has the highest ratio in which four out of 1,000 people were victims of forced labour and many countries are playing their roles to tackle the matter.

“Malaysia ratified the ILO Forced Labour Convention No. 29 in 1957, which defines forced labour as ‘all work or services that are exacted from any person under the threat of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily’,” he said.

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Forced Labour , HR Ministry , V. Sivakumar


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