Malaysia: The Bad.

In News on March 19, 2008 at 3:41 am


Following the excellent news that Malaysian scientists are developing a cheaper version of aerogel, this Newsweek piece on foreign labour came up, describing many foreign workers as captives working for pittance–aka slave labour. It’s not a great boost for our country’s image (and many foreigners will now have a stereotyped image of Malaysia being a cruel hub of slave labour), and I hope the Opposition/New State governments brings this issue up.

Of course, many Malaysians have suspected this happening widespread with little or loose control on the way foreign labour is handled by private “job placement” companies. I hope this story sticks into the conscience of the people whenever they consider hiring foreign labour from dodgy agents for dirt-cheap prices.

Some of the world’s leading computer makers don’t want you to know about Local Technic Industry. It’s a typical Malaysian company, one of many small makers of the cast-aluminum bodies for hard-disk drives used in just about every name-brand machine on the market. But that’s precisely the problem: it’s a typical Malaysian company. About 60 percent of Local Technic’s 160 employees are from outside Malaysia—and a company executive says he pities those guest workers.

“They have been fooled hook, line and sinker,” he says, asking not to be named because others in the business wouldn’t like his talking to the press. “They have been taken for a ride.” It’s not Local Technic’s fault, he insists: sleazy labor brokers outside the country tricked the workers into paying huge placement fees for jobs that yield a net income close to zero. “They say they were promised 3,000 ringgits [$950] a month,” the manager says. “How can we pay that? If we did, we would be bankrupt in no time.”

So why don’t those foreign employees just quit? Because they can’t, even if they find out they’ve been cheated by the very brokers who brought them there. Malaysian law requires guest workers to sign multiple-year contracts and surrender their passports to their employers. Those who run away but stay in Malaysia are automatically classed as illegal aliens, subject to arrest, imprisonment and caning before being expelled from the country.


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