Politics cited for possible ban on Sabah dependent pass

By Dinesh Kumar, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 20 — Moves to keep the Sabah vote could be behind the Barisan Nasional’s (BN) proposal to eliminate dependent passes for family members of foreign workers there, activists said.

They added the proposal will also have a detrimental effect on labour for the state’s lucrative palm oil and cocoa plantation sector.

“There is a high number of undocumented, stateless or refugee migrants in Sabah. This is a strong issue in Sabah. So, it is simply to show that the government of the day is trying to deal with the issue,” Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez told The Malaysian Insider.

“And there is this contention that migrants will be overtaking the Sabahans. This whole political manipulation in Sabah has caused Sabahans to see migrants as a threat,” she added, calling the suggestion “ridiculous”.

The Special Lab on the Management of Sabah Foreign Workers had recently recommended that the dependent pass, which allows dependents of foreign workers to live in the country, be done away with in Sabah.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said in a statement that this is one of the 20 recommendations made by the laboratory and is also an initiative suggested by the Foreign National Management Laboratory.

He said Sabah Cabinet ministers will be briefed on the recommendations by him and Human Resource Minister Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam in a special meeting.

The Foreign National Management Laboratory, which began earlier this year, is an initiative to tackle the mushrooming of foreign workers in Malaysia, especially illegal ones, and also to reduce the dependency on migrants so as to create more employment opportunities for Malaysians.

If the measure is approved by the Sabah government, the dependent pass, issued during the neutralisation programme, can no longer be renewed and it will no longer be issued.

This would mean dependents of current foreign workers in Sabah, especially Indonesians, will not be allowed to stay in the state but will be sent back to their respective countries. Foreign workers will also not be able to bring in their families with them in the future.

“Why are they bringing their family here? To be a family unit. If they are going to stay here for years, it is ridiculous to leave behind their family members,” Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) president Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud said.

Both he and Fernandez are members of the PKR, the lynchpin in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) pact that controls four states and 77 federal seats.

“We mustn’t seem inhumane,” he added, saying the measure would only deny the basic rights of the dependents.

Both Syed Shahir and Fernandez agreed this move will potentially harm the plantation sector of Sabah.

“The plantation sector is highly dependent on foreign workers and as it is, Sabah has a shortage of labour. This will hit the economy very badly,” asserted Fernandez, whose organisation promotes the rights of women, migrant workers and other oppressed and poor people in Malaysia.

“During the harvesting period, there’s always a shortage of workers. So, how are they going to manage it,” Syed Shahir said.

He added that when the dependent pass was approved during the illegal workers’ neutralisation programme, the government should have anticipated the rise in the number of foreigners in Malaysia and not deal with it only now.

“They have created problems and now they have to resolve it.”