Nonprofit says business key to regulate migration to Sabah

OFW Journalism Consortium

DAVAO CITY–A NONPROFIT group called on the business sector in Mindanao to get involved in the migration process to Sabah so as to avoid labor abuses and sordid tales of workers in Malaysia.

This proposal by the Quezon City-headquartered group IDEALS comes at a time when Amnesty International reported recently that promises of high salaries puts foreign workers in situations of exploitation and abuse.

Atty. Melissa Suzette Banzon of IDEALS (Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services) called on chambers of commerce in Mindanao and representatives of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) to discuss regular migration channels to facilitate the recruitment of prospective Filipino workers to Malaysia.

Banzon suggested five modes of legal migration between Mindanao and Sabah so that the latter’s labor needs are met.

The local chambers of commerce, in particular, the lawyer said, should work together to ensure the safe recruitment of Filipinos to Malaysia.

Banzon thinks the chambers of commerce in the Zamboanga City-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi Tawi (Zambasulta) area and the Sabah United Chinese Chambers of Commerce can discuss means where Sabah-bed enterprises will hire Filipino workers with the help of the Zambasulta chambers.

However, Banzon said this initiative should have a parallel move by public officials of Sabah and Zambasulta through sister-city relationships like the one between Zamboanga City and Kota Kinabalu, Banzon told participants of a forum here on remittances from Malaysia to the Philippines.

Your browser may not support display of this image. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data reveal that land- and sea-based Filipino workers in Malaysia has sent US$446.72 million from 2000 to 2009.

Banzon’s suggestions hope to address the continued deportation of irregular Filipino workers from Sabah, with 73,099 of them from 1995 to July 2009 coming from Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development Region IX office revealed.

From January to March this year, some 2,330 Filipinos deportees have been provided P2.485 million assistance, according to the DSWD-9 office.

Last year, it recorded some 11,014 deportees, as various stakeholders led by DSWD provided P10.687 million in assistance to them (see Graphic 1).

These deportees, called by Malaysians as “halaws,” were spotted through the round-up operations targeting irregular migrants called Ops Bersepadu, the office said.

The last Ops Bersepadu held in 2008, Banzon said, saw some 95,450 Filipino workers and dependents registering.

Human rights advocacy group Amnesty International (AI), in a 100-plus paged report titled “Trapped—the Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Malaysia,” said that low wages, unsafe working conditions, and arbitrary arrests and exploitation prevail in Malaysia.

There are an estimated two million regular migrant workers and about one million irregular migrant workers in Malaysia.

Data as of 2007 from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas showed that there are 90,965 overseas workers, 26,002 permanent residents, and some 128,000 irregular migrants in Malaysia.

Female Filipino workers are recruited in Sabah for domestic work, while male counterparts are what Banzon calls “general workers” in sectors such as plantation, agriculture, breeding, fisheries, factories of export products, and construction.

According to the AI report, migrant workers fill jobs at construction sites, factories, restaurants, households and palm oil plantations in Sabah and in peninsular Malaysia, where the capital Kuala Lumpur is found.


THE Malaysia-Philippines Working Group on Migrant Workers, a periodic dialogue between the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs, can also discuss formal recruitment arrangements between Sabah and Mindanao, Banzon said.

This working group has meet five times already since 2005, and discussed mostly the plight of irregular workers in Sabah and peninsular Malaysia, human trafficking cases, the status of Filipino refugees from Mindanao who are in Sabah, and border control issues.

But Banzon thinks that using the BIMP-EAGA mechanism to facilitate regular migration of workers is less explored.

BIMP-EAGA is comprised of Brunei; the states of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, West Papua and Papua in Indonesia; Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan in Malaysia; and Palawan and Mindanao island in the Philippines.

This bloc, that’s tasked to improve trade, tourism and investment in the covered growth areas, has not yet tackled the issue of labor mobility within the covered areas —even as Indonesians and Filipinos are the topmost number of migrant workers in Malaysia.

“If Malaysia does need foreign workers, then these modes of legal migration may work to benefit Malaysia as well as the Philippines,” Banzon said during the forum.

But she said these proposed modes of regular migration by Filipinos to Sabah are not enough without implementing incentives mechanisms surrounding labor recruitment.

These include: training schemes for entering migrant workers, investments or assistance in the procurement of property in the Philippines, and even mandatory remittance schemes from Sabah to the Philippines and some complementary savings and investment schemes.

Data from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Kuala Lumpur show that Filipino domestic workers earn a high of 2,000 Malaysian ringgit (P26,964 at RM1=P13.48) compared to the high of RM639 of workers from other labor-sending countries. Filipino engineers can get a high of RM3,00 compared to RM1,500 for other nationals (see Table 1).

For its part, AI urged origin countries to follow the example of the Philippine government which was able to negotiate for memoranda of understanding and other bilateral arrangements that provide for minimum wages, a minimum number of days off, and other protections for migrant workers.

AI urged Malaysia to increase inspections in the work places of migrant workers, as well as speedily prosecute Malaysian police and immigration authorities found to have mistreated migrant workers.

Most of the 200 migrant workers interviewed by Amnesty International report are from South Asian countries and from Indonesia, plus some from the Philippines.

OFW Journalism Consortium