BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
ASEAN governments must be more vigilant to ensure domestic workers are not financially exploited by employment recruiters, said the regional head of the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP).
Migrant workers who come to Brunei often pay large recruiting fees to agents, ranging from several hundred to a few thousand dollars. In order to repay the debt, agents sometimes deduct up to half the employee’s salary.“That could absolutely be considered (human) trafficking,” said Annette Lyth, regional head of the UNIAP.
“If that sum they take is unreasonably high then it could be a way of exploiting them.”
Lyth said in order to determine an unreasonable debt, more research must be done on the fees charged by different employment agencies, and how much its costs for them to transport an individual to Brunei to work.
“What is a reasonable fee? If it keeps them in debt for years then it must be unreasonable because its not that expensive to fly someone within the region, especially if the employer is bearing the cost of passage.”
Chris Ng, deputy public prosecutor at Attorney General’s Chambers, said cases of agents and employers withholding wages would “very much be considered exploitation” under current Brunei legislation.
“There is still a lot to be done in terms of conforming to standards concerning labour exploitation. Having said that the Labour Department does its part in ensuring that within the auspices of the law, employers are made aware that regulations they need to comply with.”
A Malaysian couple was recently prosecuted for human trafficking after it was alleged that they withheld their Indonesian maid’s wages, exploiting her as forced labour and subjecting her to physical abuse.
However, the couple was acquitted after the maid changed parts of her testimony in court. The presiding judge also felt there was not sufficient evidence to convict the couple of human trafficking.
Ng added it was often difficult to successfully prosecute trafficking cases because several elements must be proved to obtain a conviction – such as the use of threats, deception, abuse of power and recruitment or transport of an individual for the purpose of exploitation.
Recent research has revealed that 60 per cent of ASEAN migrant workers are not covered by national labour laws, trade unions or minimum wage because they are employed in the informal sector.
About 14 million migrant workers from ASEAN countries have fanned out to work in other parts of the globe. Almost six million work within Southeast Asia.
The Brunei Times
Thursday, February 20, 2014