Press statement by SUARAM 17 June 2016

One presumes that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) exists to ensure the health and safety of ALL workers. And yet we don’t see NIOSH speaking out when news breaks about shocking super-exploitation of migrant workers in our country. Two recent cases stand out.

  1. The Nepal Embassy in Kuala Lumpur made the shocking revelation last year that nine of its migrant workers die every week in Malaysia and that nearly 3,000 Nepali workers have died in Malaysia in the past 12 years. The Nepalese Ambassador to Malaysia Dr Niranjan Man Singh Basnyat revealed that 70 percent of the 461 deaths of Nepal workers in Malaysia last year were due to heart attack. The high fatality rate is attributed to super-exploitation, stress and low pay. They work 12-hour shifts and some work more than 18 hours a day.

We still recall the riot that broke out last January at a plywood factory in Kedah where Nepali workers were protesting the death of a colleague who had died because he was not taken to hospital in time. The protesting workers were arrested and deported. A month earlier, two Nepalis in the same factory had also died of Sudden Death Syndrome. There was a similar protest at a factory in Johore. Last year, the Malaysian government withdrew subsidies to non-citizens for medical fees, increased medical fees for non-nationals by 30 percent and also put a limit on prescription drugs for foreigners.

NIOSH must call for a stop to 12-hour shifts; ensure that employers carry out periodic medical checkups for workers and that there are sufficient in-house medical facilities at their factories. NIOSH must also have an opinion about the deduction of levy payment from workers salary. Levy is a premium payment that should be borne by employers for bringing in migrant workers; it is unacceptable that this payment is deducted from migrant workers’ wages. NIOSH should also demand that employers comply with the new minimum wages of RM1000 beginning July 2016 and not give excuses to postpone its implementation.

  1. The second case highlighting the disregard of the health and safety of migrant workers concerns the cessation of outdoor activities when the Air Pollution Index reaches hazardous levels. While schools have to close and people are advised to stay indoors, NIOSH does not call for the cessation of outdoor work such as in construction sites or plantations or mines where most of the workers are migrants.

We wish to remind NIOSH that they exist to safeguard the health and safety of ALL workers and not just Malaysian workers. Failure to fulfill this duty and obligation is a violation of international human rights standards.