BERITA DAILY LETTER: From Mary Chin, via e-mail

As the clock ticked past June 30, 2017, we woke up to news reports of truck loads of migrants being nabbed in a nationwide operation.

That was the deadline for ‘enforcement card’ (e-card) registration, which opened on Feb 15. The e-card, which is free and is valid until Feb 15, 2018, serves as temporary confirmation of employment for workers without valid travel documents.

Arrests reported include:

  • 10 workers from Pahang;
  • 11 and 13 workers from Butterworth and Bayan Lepas, respectively;
  • 51 workers from Kapar;
  • 156 workers and 2 employers from Seri Kembangan and Kota Kemuning;
  • 196 workers from Damansara Perdana, Jalan Pudu and Dengkil, Sepang;
  • 35, 20, 147, 23, 36, 23 and 69 workers from Ipoh, Alor Setar, Kota Baru, Malacca, Kuala Terengganu, Seremban, Kota Kinabalu, respectively;
  • 414 and 135 workers from Johor and Sabah, respectively;
  • 19 employers within the first day;
  • 1,509 workers and 28 employers in 181 raids within the first three days of the month;
  • 3,014 workers and 57 employers in 502 raids by the 10th day;
  • a month-old infant in Kota Kinabalu.

Here are some figures from the report ‘Irresponsible employers must be held accountable’: For 600,000 illegal workers in the country, 28,375 employers came forward, 145,571 e-cards have been issued over four months. The title of the report rhymes with my earlier plea: Discipline the employers; do not punish the employees.

No more e-cards will be issued. That the immigration department detected 40 false e-cards has been reported unanimously by The Malay Mail, The Sun, The Star and The New Straits Times, with Bernama as the source.

The immigration department will act against agents and issuers – the objective is clear, migrant workers are not the target for action.

The business perspective

Master Builders Association Malaysia president Foo Chek Lee said the raids jeopardise productivity, citing some of the reasons why some contractors did not apply for e-cards for their workers.

Contractors pay RM600 in advance for the rehiring programme when applying for the e-card. In case the application fails, there will be no refund, and they will have to send the workers back at their own costs.

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Sham­suddin Bardan noted some policiesdiscouraging e-card registrations.

Tan Thian Poh of the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia said SMEs would be worst hit, and that stringent conditions defeat the objective of the e-card.

Indeed, SME Association of Malaysia president Michael Kang expects productivity to be affected.

Immigration director general Mustafar Ali said, “Employers caught flouting the law can be charged under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007 (Atipsom).”

He said employers can also be charged under the Immigration Act 1959/63 sections 55A, 55B for hiring illegal migrants, 55E for allowing migrants to enter and remain on the premises, and 56(1)(d) for harbouring illegal migrants.

The director general also said those who surrendered would only be charged a penalty of RM400 instead of paying up to RM5,000 if caught.

They will be blacklisted up to five years from re-entering Malaysia. If brought to court, there could be a minimum fine of RM10,000.

So, what is the immigration department going to do with the fruitful catch? Workers will be detained for an undetermined period until they are deported. Spectators may identify with either the cat or the mouse.

Cat’s eye view

The New Straits Times presents the speculation that a number of workers had gone into hiding and had fled. The headline splashes this speculation as a statement – dynamic, sensational, full of action and motion. This is followed by an opinion that migrant workers spit, litter, jump queue and need education – unlike Malaysians. I have previously put our reciprocal phobia in context.

Logically thinking, who wouldn’t try to hide or flee? Indeed, failed attempts were reportedby The Star. Decades ago, a family friend went as illegal migrant to wash dishes in the USA; she spoke a lot about being in constant hiding. At that time, it was en vogue for Malaysians to ‘jump aeroplane’, which was the Cantonese description of going abroad as illegal migrants in faraway countries.

Mouse’s eye view

In the Malay Mail, Transparency International Malaysia president Akhbar Satar was reported as finding the current penalty of RM10,000 per worker and a five-year jail term (under the Immigration Act 1959/1963) on employers too light.

Tenaganita programme director Aegile Fernandez said, “… employers and agents should also have to experience the deplorable states in detention centres.”

Both warn of significant overlap between undocumented workers and victims of human trafficking.

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia commissioner Lok Yim Pheng is reported as saying, “… these workers are responsible for far more than themselves…”

The Malay Mail also published an opinion on the discriminatory misbehaviour of some Malaysians. On a separate page, a doctor is reported citing migrant workers and foreign tourists alongside locals as his patients. No separatism here. Everyone is part of our duty of care.

A horrid picture of our hospitality towards guests workers – although of no surprise – is described in ‘14 foreign workers forced to sleep on armchairs in single room‘.

The Sun provides a perspective of Nepal receiving her people home. For Nepalis nabbed during the crackdown, the Nepal Embassy and labour attaché in Malaysia are seeing to their air tickets and safe returns. According to Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (Nafea) estimates, 500,000 Nepalis work in Malaysia; 40,000 are without valid permits.

We can thank our lucky stars not to be in constant anticipation of being found and caught and going through God-knows-what-sort-of-treatment.

We can thank our even luckier stars for not being detained in such a way that we end up as just as a statistic (one among X number of people detained) – perhaps going missing without anyone even noticing our disappearance from the community or reporting that we are in fact missing.

Note that each MH370 passenger was individually named. It was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas who was identified by a number rather than a name.

Wahai bangsa Malaysia (Malaysians, O Malaysians), how should we consume and digest these many news items?

A We join the chorus, “Serves them right; nab the illegal workers! Nab the illegal workers!”

B We vent our dirty laundry, “We are unable to regulate the employers and the agents; all we can do is to tackle the workers.”

C We say, “What to do, we still need carers; we still prefer taking care of our pets to taking care of our elders (sometimes even our kids).”

D We say, “What to do, we still need builders; we can’t help buying and selling properties as we did on the Monopoly board when we were little.”

E None of the above.

The luckiest star we can thank here is our freedom to make a choice of A, B, C, D or E.

Dr Mary PW Chin, PhD (Wales) is currently an independent scientist in Penang, having previously served in the UK and at CERN, one of the world’s most respected centres for scientific research. She is a medical, radiation and computational research physicist by profession.