The brouhaha continues with regards to Malaysia and the hiring of foreign workers.

After the nation froze the intake of foreign workers in February this year to appeal to employers to hire domestic workers, it went on to lift the ban on foreign workers for four sectors - manufacturing, construction, plantation and furniture-making - that have appealed for the ban to be lifted, in light of major staff shortages.

In the latest turn of events, Malaysia's Immigration Department's director-general Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali has announced during a press conference that they will start freezing the assets of employers in the industrial sector who hire and protect illegal foreign workers from next month, according to reports by The Star.

During the press conference, the Mustafar said that there is a provision under Section 56(1) of the Immigration Act to freeze assets and bank accounts of employers, however, it has not been fully enforced.

"We don't want the public to get shocked when we finally take this measure come October this year. It's not a new thing.

"We hope the media can relay the message to the public so that we can create awareness, as well as inform employers of the consequences they face when they protect their illegal foreign workers," he said.

Mustafar said the department has also discussed the matter with legal advisers, The Star reported.

"The department is giving employers until the end of this month to sort everything –their workers' travel documents, visas and permits," he said.

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In line with that, N Gopal Kishnam, secretary-general of Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC), wrote in a letter to the malaysiakini that the union welcomes the Immigration Department’s policy to freeze assets and bank accounts of employers in the industrial sector who hire illegal foreign workers.

"In view of the MTUC, the latest announcement is a constructive move to deal with the problem of employment of foreign workers in Malaysia," Kishnam wrote.

"We strongly feel that only with decisive actions such as this, we could control the entry of foreign workers illegally and hiring of illegal foreign workers by irresponsible employers. MTUC also firmly believes that this measure will help reduce dependency on the foreign workers unreasonably."

He added that the MTUC hopes the policy will be enforced in a comprehensive manner and that requests or demands from certain quarters who are against the policy won't be entertained.

"This is vital for the country and important for future growth of the nation. We should punish irresponsible parties depend on illegal workers, and should take firm action on them.

"Hiring or employing foreign workers illegally is a crime. So, why should we tolerate them? Immigration Department must demonstrate its commitment to enforce the existing provisions under the Section 56 (1) of the Immigration Act to freeze their assets," Kishnam wrote.

In related news, a coalition of NGOs working on migrant rights have urged the government to come up with a comprehensive policy on labour migration, according to The Star.

"The Right to Redress Coalition (R2R) said there were many contentious issues associated with labour migration in Malaysia, and they were not problems that can be ignored," The Star wrote.

R2R member Rani Rasiah told The Star that given the significance of migrant workers to the economy, and their numbers, it is not a problem we can afford to ignore.

She estimated that migrant workers make up one third of the workforce, and 20% of Malaysia's population and more than half the migrant workforce in the country is undocumented.

"Certain economic sectors have become so dependent on migrant workers that there’s a fear of collapse if they are withdrawn," Rani said to The Star.

She pointed out that the conflicting decisions by the government in relation to the 1.5 milion Bangladeshi workers issue served as an example why a comprehensive policy was needed, The Star reported.

"What is the basis of bringing in workers? Shouldn’t it be based on manpower needs of the country?" she said.

Rani is of the opinion that the demand for migrant workers doesn’t complement the local workforce, but rather to replace it with cheaper labour.

She added that there was an urgent need to honestly evaluate the situation and formulate a comprehensive national policy on labour migration.

"Such a policy she said should be based on a reliable assessment of the manpower needs of the country, and respect for the workers’ and human rights of the entire workforce, local and migrant," The Star wrote.

"Such a policy should remove the profit incentive from labour migration, and help clear among others, Malaysia’s terrible track record in human trafficking and forced labour," she said.

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