More than 5,000 migrant workers tore down a guard tower during rioting at the facility where they were staying in Malaysia’s industrial city of Johor Baru today.
During the struggle rubbish and stones were used against over 200 riot police, with fire extinguishers being torn off the walls and allegedly used to spray bystanders.
The fighting, which was eventually contained in the early evening after seven hours, was sparked after an injured staff member died when employers delayed sending them to hospital.
The 20-year-old Nepalese man had contracted a high fever on Sunday, which he initially concealed from managers. However even after he became unable to hide his distress bosses allegedly refused to send him for treatment until it was too late. He died at 7am the next day.
Workers are calling for the establishment of a mini-clinic at the the electronics compound as well as increases to pay. Following the riot, managers agreed to meet a workers’ representative to discuss problems at the plant in Tebrau Industrial Area.
Migrant workers in Malaysia are some of the most precarious in the world despite making up over 20% of the country’s workforce, with few labour rights and often horrific working conditions.
Despite having a huge mass presence, the wide range of nationalities present and transitory situations militate against organisation — the protesters at Tebrau comprised of workers from Nepal, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh and India.
Recent reports from NGO Amnesty International have been highly critical of legal protections and conditions for the migrant workforce, noting:
Migrant workers are critical to Malaysia's economy, but they systematically receive less legal protection than other workers. They are easy prey for unscrupulous recruitment agents, employers and corrupt police."
Migrants, many from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Nepal, are forced to work in hazardous situations, often against their will, and toil for 12 hours a day or more. Many are subject to verbal, physical and sexual abuse.”
Most pay recruitment agents substantial sums of money to secure jobs, work permits and training. Once they arrive, they often find that much of what their agents told them about their new jobs is untrue — the pay, type of work, even the existence of those jobs or their legal status in the country.”
Most workers have taken out loans at exorbitant interest rates and simply cannot afford to return to their home countries. Some are in situations close to bonded labour.
Nearly all employers hold their workers' passports, placing workers at risk of arrest and in practice preventing them from leaving abusive workplaces. Coercive practices such as these are indicators of forced labour.
Labour laws are not effectively enforced, and labour courts may take months or years to resolve cases. For domestic workers, who are not covered by most of the labour laws, recourse to the courts is usually not an option.