Tenaganita executive director Irene Fernandez today lambasted the government for calling her "a shame" for highlighting the plight of migrant workers.
Instead, she said, it was the government that had tarnished the country’s image.
This follows Deputy Human Resources Minister Maznah Mazlan taking a swipe at Fernandez as unethical, inaccurate and unpatriotic, for telling the Jakarta Post that Malaysia was not a safe place for migrant workers, and discouraging Indonesia from sending its workers here.
At a press conference today, Fernandez ( left ) pointed out the Malaysian government had instead damaged the nation’s reputation by still being on the United States watch list on human trafficking for two years.
“Who has tarnished the image of this country if not this government?” she said mockingly.
The activist, who for two decades has been fighting for migrant workers’ rights also said that she would only be unpatriotic if she remained silent.
“We raised the issue so that changes could be made. It is crucial and important for good governance,” she said.
On the authorities’ notion that her statement has cast a shadow over Malaysia-Indonesia bilateral relations, she went a step further to question what had caused the freeze on Indonesian workers from being sent to Malaysia.
“It has been three years since the decision , it wasn’t because of my statement, but because of the outcry over human right violations,” she said.
‘Those who called me a traitor should apologise’
Before the necessary steps are in place, she held firm to her earlier statement that Malaysia is not safe for migrant workers.
“I will not apologise (for the statement) because I have not done anything.
“Those who called me a traitor should apologise,” she said.
According to Fernandez, Tenaganita, the Malaysia Bar and other NGOs had called for the government to come out with a comprehensive policy on migrant workers, but the latter instead “institutionalised practices that crippled the rights of migrants”.
She said one such example is the amendment made to the Employment Act last year to include outsourcing companies and labour contractors as “employers”, both of which, she claimed, have a role in trafficking persons for labour.
She pointed out that Malaysia, has among others, also abstained from signing the international Domestic Workers Convention; denies undocumented workers access to nredress; excludes domestic workers from the Employment Act; and was lackadaisical in allowing enforcement officials and employers to withhold migrants’ passports.
“Dismissing these cases as isolated incidences does not change the reality... This is a modern form of slavery,” she claimed.
She urged the government to stop being in a state of denial, and address the omission and commission of the rights of migrant workers.
Meanwhile, Fernandez claimed that she has informed The Jakarta Post on several misquotes in the report published on Monday and the latter has agreed to do corrections.
The mistakes, she claimed, include statements that she said Malaysian employers will pay the police and court; and undocumented workers were not punished because they paid the police.
She said the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission has summoned her for an interview on Friday because of her statement, but details were not given.