Letter to the Straits Times on 29 April 2020: “Seeking Official Clarity”

11 May 2020

MARUAH submitted the following letter to the Forum Page of the Straits Times on 29 April 2020 in response to reports of Members of Parliament doing walkabouts in Channel News Asia. It has yet to be published.

I refer to reports of Members of Parliament doing walkabouts in Channel News Asia (MP Seah Kian Peng explains visit to market after Facebook post on ‘playing role of safe distancing ambassador’; 27th April) and The Straits Times (MP Chia Shi-Lu responds to criticism of Sunday walkabout; 14th April).

The MPs, from Marine Parade GRC and Tanjong Pagar GRC, were reported as saying that they were doing their walkabout to find out how people were coping and to encourage compliance to orders under the Circuit Breaker which was ordered on April 3rd and went into effect on April 8th. New laws – the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 and The Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations 2020 – were put into place to give clarity on measures, on enforcements and on penalties. The PAP suspended the Meet-the-People’s sessions between MPs and residents on April 13th. These measures were also introduced at various stages by the multi-task force dealing with containment of Covid-19 infections and treatment of cases. Much education on safety and prevention had also been taking place, frequently, by staff, volunteers and the media.

By the laws enacted MPs’ work are not listed as essential service providers (https://covid.gobusiness.gov.sg/essentialservices/). These are provided for by front liners, healthcare workers on the ground, civil service officers, counsellors and support officers from various sectors and communities. There is also a website on legal and assistance measures for affected persons, during this challenging time (https://www.mlaw.gov.sg/news/press-releases/2020-04-20-covid-19-temporary-measures-act-provisions-relating-to-temporary-reliefs-to-commence-on-20-april-2020).
As such, one is hard-pushed to appreciate this extra support from the MPs at this time, putting at risk the containment efforts and themselves in flouting the Covid-19( Temporary Measures) Act 2020. Various members of the public and migrant workers who had been caught flouting this law, have been arrested, charged and most have been fined or errant migrant workers had work passes, revoked. Others , who posted on social media their activities that showed them breaking the law, were investigated and where appropriate, charged.

It is heartening, that yesterday ( April 28th) in Malaysia, two political leaders – the Deputy Health Minister and Perak’s executive council member – were both fined RM1,000 for violating Rule 6(1) of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases ( Measures Within the Infected Local Areas) Regulations 2020 under Malaysia’s Movement Control Order that began on March 18th. They had said earlier, they were visiting a health clinic to check on Covid-19 preparations in the area, had adjourned for prayers and later a meal. The politicians, who apologised, and their supporters were charged as their services were not essential.

No one is baying for blood here. But there cannot be a silence. There has been no clarification or course of action from the Ministry of Law, Ministry of Home Affairs, The Attorney-General’s Office or the Prime Minister’s Office. If a wrong has been done, the law applies equally, to anyone and everyone. And if there is no wrong done, the explanations given by the MPs – as it has been with others who were arrested and charged – must either be officially accepted or rejected.

Braema Mathi
Secretary, MARUAH

Statement on Recommendations to Improve the Status and Well Being of Migrant Workers in Singapore

6 May 2020

Dear all,

Last week, you were invited to a Labour Day webinar which was held to discuss Migrant Workers and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following the webinar, a statement of recommendations from the discussions has been produced. Please click on link below to view this statement.

Statement on Recommendations to Improve the Status and Well Being of Migrant Workers in Singapore 6 May 2020

Prior to sharing this document with you, we have sent it to PM Lee and Ministers in the task force.

This document is being shared with you in your various capacities of interest on Covid-19 and Migrant Workers.

We hope that this document will bring more attention to the challenges of  migrant workers and how we as Singaporeans and as a nation can do our part in mitigating the impact on their community.



CSOs Stand in Solidarity with Women Human Rights Defender Tengku Emma Zuriana and Condemn Online Gender-Based Attacks

28 April 2020

28 Apr 2020 Statement 128 Apr 2020 Statement 228 Apr 2020 Statement 328 Apr 2020 Statement 4

International Workers’ Memorial Day Statement – Mourn for dead, Fight for the living

28 April 2020

Mere Remembrance of Dead Workers without Enacting New Laws to ensure future safety of the Living is Meaningless

On the occasion of the International Workers’ Memorial Day or Workers’ Mourning Day, celebrated annually on  April 28, we, the 40 undersigned groups and trade unions lament the fact that workers’ death at worksites, have not resulted in the Malaysian government’s enactment of laws, regulations and standards that will prevent future deaths or injury in a similar situation.

International Workers’ Memorial Day or Workers’ Mourning Day is the international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work. The slogan for the day is Mourn for the dead, Fight for the living.

While we mourn the loss of lives and injuries of workers, we struggle and fight for the living with the object of reducing risk of future loss of life and injury at the work place.

In Malaysia, in 2018, there were 611 fatal accident cases. In 2017, there were 711 fatal accident cases. (Bernama, 11/07/2018; Star, 7/1/2020). Interestingly, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) records of fatal accident cases investigated in 2017 and 2018, are only 206 and 260 respectively, which means that investigations are yet to be completed even in so cases that resulted in death.

The construction sector records one of the highest number of fatalities. The Occupational Safety and Health Department’s (DOSH) statistics recorded 169 deaths and 3,911 accidents in the construction sector for 2018.( NST, 15/2/2020) The rate of fatality per 100,000 workers in the construction sector is 13.44 in 2018, as compared to 14.57 in 2017.

Malaysia’s Fatal Accident Rate (FAR) was not only 10 times worse than that of the United Kingdom but had in fact deteriorated by 20 per cent since the turn of the century, according to a Construction Industry Development Board report.

Deaths by reason of trench collapses – death by being buried alive

Jalmi, an Indonesian worker in his 20s, died after he was buried in a three-metre drain during excavation works in Shah Alam, Selangor in October 2015. (NST, 5/10/2015).

In March 2015, it was reported that 2 construction workers in Machang, Kelantan, a local man and a Myanmar national  were killed when earth collapsed and buried them in the hole whilst they were working on a water supply pipe project .(NST, 30/3/2015).

In September 2015, A Bangladeshi construction worker was killed in Kuala Lumpur after he was buried in a pile of soil, after the victim and his colleague had earlier dug a hole about three-meters deep to install underground pipes.(NST, 30/9/2015)

Nicholas anak Jawan, a 33-year-old worker, was killed in Sarawak after he was buried alive while building a deep monsoon drain (Malay Mail, 3/12/2019)

Md Shoriful, 43, and Julhas Rahman, 27, were killed when they were buried by mounds of falling earth at a housing project construction site in Mentakab, Temerloh where they were carrying out sewage pipe installation works. (BERNAMA/New Straits Times, 6/3/2020)

There will be much more similar cases, which unfortunately not all would have been reported by the media. Sadly, media reports also fails to respectfully name the workers who died, and also fails to make mention of the names of the companies and/or employers who may be responsible for these fatal accidents.

In the commemoration of this year’s IWMD, we call upon the Malaysian government to:

  1. Enact and enforce laws and regulations that impose mandatory obligations to prevent further deaths in the future

Death by such trench collapses in Malaysia, and also all over the world, have been happening for years, and the question is why are there still no specific laws and regulations in place that will prevent such deaths in similar situations in the future.

What ought to be in such laws could be the requirement for needed supports and/or battering to prevent the soil from collapsing on workers working in such pits or trenches. The requirement for the need for safety inspection of the site by a competent person, before a worker is asked to enter any hole or trench of more than 1 meter depth, noting that safety will also be affected by type of soil, weather on that day, vibration caused by machines operating nearby or other reasons.

Specific regulations and standards are needed, rather than vague general laws that simply talk about ‘so far as practicable’ general obligations of safety and health. In some other countries, there are already laws that specifically deal with this like The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 in United Kingdom, and

There are so many employers and companies involved in construction works in Malaysia, and it absurd to expect them to know of all the dangers and risks involved in the various different aspects of their work. Employers and companies, may not be aware of the risks discovered at other worksites following some accidents, and as such may still be carrying out work in the same risky life-threatening manner through ignorance.

Thus, it is only reasonable and incumbent for the government, who has the data and expertise with regard to occupational safety and health issues, to do the needful through the making of needed regulations and/or laws, which includes steps to be taken by employers to ensure safety.

Every worksite incident that results in an accident, injury and/or death of a worker, ought to teach us what need to be done now to prevent future mishaps that may result in death of workers. The government is duty bound to take steps to ensure similar accidents do not recur anywhere, and the best solution is the enactment of clear laws, rules and regulations that will not only highlight the dangers, but will also make sure that employers and companies do the needful to reduce risk of death and injury. Mere guidelines or advisories are insufficient.

  1. Make public and create awareness of Laws, Regulations and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

It is often that government mentions about SOPs and other legal requirements, but sadly many of these are not even known to workers and the public, thus making it impossible for people to even highlight actions and/or situations when employers and companies do not follow the law.

All applicable laws, regulations and SOPs must be made available to the public, including all websites of agencies, departments and Ministries having the responsibility for occupational safety and health.

  1. Ensure deterrent sentences to reduce non-compliance, and reduce death and injury of workers

Worker lives and wellbeing are of primary importance, and as such penalty for employers and companies that breach laws that protect the safety and health of workers must be deterrent if Malaysia is truly concerned about human lives.

Currently penalties for violation of Occupational Safety and Health laws are fines, and a maximum of 2 years imprisonment. However, there seem to be no employers or Directors of companies that have been sent to prison, even when their failings have resulted in death and injury to workers. It is Directors and owners of companies that sometimes, to save cost, who choose to negate duties and obligations to do the needful to ensure worker safety and health.

Kevin Otto, owner of Atlantic Drain Services, a company in US was recently sentenced to two years imprisonment after being found guilty of two counts of manslaughter for the deaths of two employees, Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks, who drowned in October 2018 in an unprotected, 14’ deep trench following a water main break. He was further penalized with three years’ probation following his sentence, and he can never again employ anyone in a job that involves excavation. (ISHN, 17/12/2019).

In other jurisdictions, stringent laws with higher penalties, including new offences, are being enacted with the object of reducing risk of life and injury to workers. In Australia, Industrial Manslaughter laws have been introduced.


Charles Hector

Apolinar Tolentino


For and on behalf of the following 40 groups


WH4C(Workers Hub For Change)

Associated Labour Union, Philippines

Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters- HRDP in Myanmar

Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) Asia Pacific Region

Building and Wood Workers’ Federation of Myanmar

Center for Orang Asli Concerns(COAC)

Clean Clothes Campaign(CCC) South East Asian Coalition

Confederation of Trade Unions  Myanmar – CTUM

Electrical Trades Union of Australia

IMA Research Foundation, Bangladesh

International Black Women for Wages for Housework

Kesatuan Pekerja Atlas Edible Ice Sdn Bhd

Kesatuan Sekerja Industri Elektronik Wilayah Selatan, Semenanjung Malaysia (KSIEWSSM)/Electronic Industry Employees Union Southern Region Peninsular Malaysia(EIEUSRPM)

Labour Behind the Label

MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)

MARUAH, Singapore

Marvi Rural Development Organization (MRDO), Pakistan

Migrant Care, Indonesia

NAMM (Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia)

National Union of Transport Equipment & Allied Industries Workers (NUTEAIW)

National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (NUFAM)

North South Initiative (NSI)

Odhikar, Bangladesh

Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor

Safety and Rights Society (SRS), Bangladesh

Tenaganita, Malaysia

Timber Employees Union of Peninsula Malaysia

Union Network International- Malaysia Labour Centre (UNI-MLC)

Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike, United Kingdom

Bangladesh Group THE Netherlands

Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)

Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union (STIEU)

African Resources Watch (Afrewatch)

Association Of Home And Maquila Workers, ATRAHDOM- Guatemala.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia(PSM)

AMMPO-SENTRO – Asosasyon ng mga Makabayang Manggagawang Pilipino Overseas – Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Association of Nationalist Filipino Workers- Sentro a labor center in the Philippines)

Payday Men’s Network UK

Payday Men’s Network US

Workers Assistance Center, Inc. Philippines

Datuk Dr Ronald McCoy

(updated with webinar recording) Labour Day Special Webinar – Migrant Workers and the Pandemic in Singapore (1 May 2020)

27 April 2020

Organised by MARUAH with technical support provided by Shape SEA

Please check back this post over the next couple of days as we upload additional presentation material.

Labour Day is special to all of us, as workers.

Have a Meaningful Labour Day as we remember those who have lost jobs, our dedicated front liners, all essential workers, healthcare workers and support staff, NGOs, union leaders, the civil service officers, multi-Ministry task force, government leaders and international leaders all and you and me…

Why meaningful? These are uneasy times, also very special as it makes us understand more on the types  of jobs and the workers. What are the new norms? How do we value the work of each other? The invisibility of so many workers, some whom we have overlooked.

Thank you for your interest and time.

A Meaningful Ramadan to all Muslim views and to many Migrant Workers who are Muslims too.

– Braema Mathi, MARUAH Secretary

Recording of the webinar

Speaker’s presentations:

  1. “The dorms are not the problem”, text version of presentation made by Mr Alex Au of Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) 
  2. “Co-creating solutions with migrant workers”, presentation slides used by Dr Satveer Kaur-Gill
  3. “Workers’ Housing In Context – Regulations, Reconsiderations, and Re-contextualisations”, presentation slides used by Dr Imran bin Tajudeen
  4. Presentation slides used by Ms Braema Mathi

Labour Day Special Webinar jpg

Amnesty International: Human rights defenders: We need them more than ever! States worldwide must protect Human Rights Defenders in the current COVID-19 crisis

9 April 2020

At a time when some of our human rights have been restricted in order to implement public health measures, human rights defenders are more crucial than ever in our struggle to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that no one is left behind. The doc includes recommendations to states on the protection and recognition of HRDs and the key role they play in the current crisis worldwide.

View report in English here

Joint Statement: States use of digital surveillance technologies to fight pandemic must respect human rights

2 April 2020

Link here: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/02/joint-civil-society-statement-states-use-digital-surveillance-technologies-fight

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global public health emergency that requires a coordinated and large-scale response by governments worldwide. However, States’ efforts to contain the virus must not be used as a cover to usher in a new era of greatly expanded systems of invasive digital surveillance.

We, the undersigned organizations, urge governments to show leadership in tackling the pandemic in a way that ensures that the use of digital technologies to track and monitor individuals and populations is carried out strictly in line with human rights.

Technology can and should play an important role during this effort to save lives, such as to spread public health messages and increase access to health care. However, an increase in state digital surveillance powers, such as obtaining access to mobile phone location data, threatens privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association, in ways that could violate rights and degrade trust in public authorities – undermining the effectiveness of any public health response. Such measures also pose a risk of discrimination and may disproportionately harm already marginalized communities.

These are extraordinary times, but human rights law still applies. Indeed, the human rights framework is designed to ensure that different rights can be carefully balanced to protect individuals and wider societies. States cannot simply disregard rights such as privacy and freedom of expression in the name of tackling a public health crisis. On the contrary, protecting human rights also promotes public health. Now more than ever, governments must rigorously ensure that any restrictions to these rights is in line with long-established human rights safeguards.

This crisis offers an opportunity to demonstrate our shared humanity. We can make extraordinary efforts to fight this pandemic that are consistent with human rights standards and the rule of law. The decisions that governments make now to confront the pandemic will shape what the world looks like in the future.

We call on all governments not to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with increased digital surveillance unless the following conditions are met:

  1. Surveillance measures adopted to address the pandemic must be lawful, necessary and proportionate. They must be provided for by law and must be justified by legitimate public health objectives, as determined by the appropriate public health authorities, and be proportionate to those needs. Governments must be transparent about the measures they are taking so that they can be scrutinized and if appropriate later modified, retracted, or overturned. We cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic to serve as an excuse for indiscriminate mass surveillance.
  2. If governments expand monitoring and surveillance powers then such powers must be time-bound, and only continue for as long as necessary to address the current pandemic. We cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic to serve as an excuse for indefinite surveillance
  3. States must ensure that increased collection, retention, and aggregation of personal data, including health data, is only used for the purposes of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data collected, Fed, and aggregated to respond to the pandemic must be limited in scope, time-bound in relation to the pandemic and must not be used for commercial or any other purposes. We cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic to serve as an excuse to gut individual’s right to privacy.
  4. Governments must take every effort to protect people’s data, including ensuring sufficient security of any personal data collected and of any devices, applications, networks, or services involved in collection, transmission, processing, and storage. Any claims that data is anonymous must be based on evidence and supported with sufficient information regarding how it has been anonymized. We cannot allow attempts to respond to this pandemic to be used as justification for compromising people’s digital safety.
  5. Any use of digital surveillance technologies in responding to COVID-19, including big data and artificial intelligence systems, must address the risk that these tools will facilitate discrimination and other rights abuses against racial minorities, people living in poverty, and other marginalized populations, whose needs and lived realities may be obscured or misrepresented in large datasets. We cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic to further increase the gap in the enjoyment of human rights between different groups in society.
  6. If governments enter into data sharing agreements with other public or private sector entities, they must be based on law, and the existence of these agreements and information necessary to assess their impact on privacy and human rights must be publicly disclosed – in writing, with sunset clauses, public oversight and other safeguards by default. Businesses involved in efforts by governments to tackle COVID-19 must undertake due diligence to ensure they respect human rights, and ensure any intervention is firewalled from other business and commercial interests. We cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic to serve as an excuse for keeping people in the dark about what information their governments are gathering and sharing with third parties.
  7. Any response must incorporate accountability protections and safeguards against abuse. Increased surveillance efforts related to COVID-19 should not fall under the domain of security or intelligence agencies and must be subject to effective oversight by appropriate independent bodies. Further, individuals must be given the opportunity to know about and challenge any COVID-19 related measures to collect, aggregate, and retain, and use data. Individuals who have been subjected to surveillance must have access to effective remedies.
  8. COVID-19 related responses that include data collection efforts should include means for free, active, and meaningful participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular experts in the public health sector and the most marginalized population groups.
7amleh – Arab Center for Social Media Advancement
Access Now
African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms Coalition
AI Now
Algorithm Watch
Alternatif Bilisim
Amnesty International
Asociación para una Ciudadanía Participativa, ACI Participa
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
ASUTIC, Senegal
Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization
Barracón Digital
Big Brother Watch
Bits of Freedom
Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD)
Center for Digital Democracy
Center for Economic Justice
Centro De Estudios Constitucionales y de Derechos Humanos de Rosario
Chaos Computer Club – CCC
Citizen D / Državljan D
Civil Liberties Union for Europe
Coding Rights
Coletivo Brasil de Comunicação Social
Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Comité por la Libre Expresión (C-Libre)
Committee to Protect Journalists
Consumer Action
Consumer Federation of America
Cooperativa Tierra Común
Creative Commons Uruguay
D3 – Defesa dos Direitos Digitais
Data Privacy Brasil
Democratic Transition and Human Rights Support Center “DAAM”
Derechos Digitales
Digital Rights Lawyers Initiative (DRLI)
Digital Security Lab Ukraine
European Digital Rights – EDRi
Foundation for Information Policy Research
Foundation for Media Alternatives
Fundación Acceso (Centroamérica)
Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo, Ecuador
Fundación Datos Protegidos
Fundación Internet Bolivia
Fundación Taigüey, República Dominicana
Fundación Vía Libre
Hermes Center
Homo Digitalis
Human Rights Watch
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies
Index on Censorship
Initiative für Netzfreiheit
Innovation for Change – Middle East and North Africa
International Commission of Jurists
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Intervozes – Coletivo Brasil de Comunicação Social
Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL)
IT-Political Association of Denmark
Iuridicum Remedium z.s. (IURE)
La Quadrature du Net
Liberia Information Technology Student Union
Masaar “Community for Technology and Law”
Media Rights Agenda (Nigeria)
MENA Rights Group
Metamorphosis Foundation
New America’s Open Technology Institute
Open Data Institute
Open Rights Group
OutRight Action International
Panoptykon Foundation
Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
PEN International
Privacy International
Public Citizen
Public Knowledge
R3D: Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales
SHARE Foundation
Skyline International for Human Rights
Swedish Consumers’ Association
Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
Tech Inquiry
The Bachchao Project
Unwanted Witness, Uganda
World Wide Web Foundation