Strengthening Labour Protection for Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Tham Hui Ying
Asylum Access Malaysia
2f3 Refugees and undocumented
Problem Statement / Issue:
In the absence of a formal legal framework, refugees and asylum seekers are denied formal rights to work and earn a dignified livelihood in Malaysia. Refugees often find themselves living in extreme poverty, working in exploitative conditions, and resorting to participation in informal work that is dirty, dangerous, and demeaning to survive. Refugees and asylum seekers receive no regular livelihood aid nor basic needs from the Malaysian government or UNHCR. Therefore, many are forced to take on informal work despite risk and fear of being arrested, detained and subject to police harassment. Refugees are unable to access employment protections and do not have proper avenues for seeking redress from unscrupulous employers. Refugee women also report enduring sexual harassment and sexual violence at the hands of employers. The Malaysian government has piloted some small-scale industry specific work pilots. However, an assessment of these pilots remains to be seen.
Value(s) and Belief(s):
Refugees and asylum seekers should be given opportunities to be self-sufficient and enjoy a dignified standard of living. Improving labor and social protections will enable refugees to make a living, contribute to the economy legitimately and prevent them from being abused and exploited in the labor force.
Proposal of Solution and Call to Action:
1. Enforce labour protections for refugees and asylum seeking workers and ensure that they are able to seek redress for labour violations, in line with the Employment Act and Industrial Relations Act. With clear policies, guidelines and training across departments on filing and handling of labour dispute cases filed by refugees/asylum seekers.
2. Develop a comprehensive policy/framework for the management and protection of refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, and enact/amend relevant laws and policies that will provide a right to stay and work rights which includes access to formal labour across all industries and geographical locations, access to social security benefits and insurance.
3. Form a technical committee between government ministries, UNHCR, and civil society to improve and institutionalize coordination of work rights. A phased approach can be adopted, with members of the technical committee providing feedback throughout the design, implementation and review phases. The technical committee should also consult widely with representatives from refugee community and employers
4. Ensure that a comprehensive recruitment and monitoring system under the Ministry of Human Resources is put in place to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers labour rights are protected, and are not exploited or trafficked in any way.
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