Conflict & Justice

Labor Lowdown: This week in workers' rights

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A Malaysian Immigration officer putting zip-ties on the wrists of suspected illegal foreign workers during an immigration raid operation shortly after midnight in Klang, outside Kuala Lumpur on September 1, 2013. Malaysia began casting a nationwide dragnet early on September 1 over an estimated half a million illegal foreign workers amid a crime wave that has cast the nation's focus on security. Enforcement officers from the immigration headquarters in the administrative capital Putrajaya nabbed 73 in the wee hours of the morning, an official said while awaiting reports from branches across the country.

Credit:

Mohd Rasfan

Recent, ongoing protests, boycotts and civil action have largely grown from a shared root: workers rights and labor abuse. Citizens and activists are demanding better working conditions, pay, and legal protections.

Burmese migrant workers return from Malaysia amid a crackdown, The Philippine consulate has partnered with California officials to improve workers conditions among the diaspora, and new information reveals South African police withheld information about last year’s Marikana shooting.

Here are some continuing issues to keep in mind:

BURMA

A group of 170 Burmese migrant workers returned on Friday from Malaysia, where a crack down on foreign workers has made conditions dangerous.

The government of Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, has been cracking down on unregistered migrants in the country—a campaign that, in recent weeks, has resulted in the arrest and detention of several thousand foreign workers.

The Burmese capital city of Naypyidaw, according to The Irrawaddy, brought the workers home in cooperation with Kuala Lumpur’s government.

A monk, Sitagu Sayardaw, who recently received a donation of $120,000, decided to spend approximately a third of these funds on the move, and paid for the repatriation of all 170 workers. Sayardaw reportedly told the Irrawaddy that he intends to use the remaining $80,000 to repatriate more workers.

Recent deadly clashes between Burmese Muslims and Buddhist migrants working in Malaysia have sparked unrest, and are being seen as “a spillover of the inter-communal violence that has affected Burma since March.”

Those Burmese migrants who returned on Friday, Irrawaddy said, “had chosen to voluntarily leave Malaysia because they feared arrest by authorities.”

“Working in Malaysia is not so bad, but I don’t want to go back there since I’m really upset about this latest crackdown,” Thazin Aye, a migrant worker for six years, told Irrawaddy.

A spokesperson for the Migrant Workers Rights Network said that “after many years of neglect Burma’s government was now slowly improving its assistance to overseas workers.”

US

The Philippine consulate has stepped into workers rights in California’s large Filipino diaspora, creating a partnership with local labor officials to address rights abuses, ABS-CBN News reported on Wednesday.

Los Angeles has one of the largest groups of overseas workers from the Philippines in the US—a group so large that some are saying it is creating possibilities for labor abuse.

"We've had workers where they weren't paid for 3 months but then couldn't leave their consumers or they're always paid very late or they haven't received their wages for over a month. Or they're being paid less than minimum wage," Aqui Sorian Versoza of the Filipino Workers Center was quoted as saying.

Home health care has been named one of the most vulnerable fields, which has employees work “long breakless hours,” for unfair and inconsistent wages.

One of the goals of this new partnership between California officials and the Philippine consulate is to “encourage the Filipino community to be aware of their labor rights.”

“We are training our own personnel in the consulate to be able to understand these issues so when some of our kababayans come to the consulate, we are able to give them a more direct and more focused reply on how to help them," Consul General Ma. Helen Barber Dela Vega said.

The Department of Labor and Employment has also launched its own awareness campaign and investigations into health care agencies.

SOUTH AFRICA

New reports revealed yesterday that South African police lied about the Marikana mine shootings last year—which took place during a miners strike, and saw its one-year anniversary just last month. a commission of inquiry has said.

A commission of inquiry said that police “falsified or withheld documents” and “gave false accounts of events relating to the shootings,” which killed 34 striking miners.

The new information came10 days after the commission gained access to a senior policeman's computer hard drive.