JWB and the International Labour Organization (ILO) Malaysia hosted a workshop to develop civil litigation strategies for Indonesian migrant workers who face exploitation and human trafficking in Malaysia. The event in Kuala Lumpur brought together front-line NGOs and legal practitioners who regularly serve migrant workers in the home or host countries. Attendees looked to identify initial steps they could take in increasing access to compensation for those victimized in Malaysia.
“We convened this event because we saw an opportunity to help front-line experts expand access to justice for migrant workers who seek redress for the harms they suffered, but who are unable to do so once they return to Indonesia,” said JWB Executive Director Douglas MacLean in the opening session. Echoing a similar message, Marja Paavilainen, Technical Advisor to the ILO, explained that the Workshop was intended to map out opportunities, challenges and practical first steps in initiating cross-border claims.
The three-day event focused on the key issue areas of employment disputes, agency fees, insurance and tort claims. Participants discussed their current practices in making claims in each area, and then began looking at which types of claims might be the least difficult to attempt cross-border. Not surprisingly, legal representation for clients who had left Malaysia was a key issue. Malaysian lawyers discussed capacity challenges in taking on pro bono cases, as well as the potentially high cost of litigation. JWB staff then focused the conversation on what could be done prior to litigation. Fortunately, both lawyers and caseworkers identified that negotiation, and the threat of litigation, already goes far in addressing many clients’ claims. Taking this tactic to cross-border claims would only require keeping in contact with the client and having partners in Indonesia who could help gather necessary evidence. Discussing negotiation as a tactic to increase claims for returnees was clearly a helpful step forward for the participants.
Finally, many of the Indonesian stakeholders voiced interest in increasing the number of insurance claims that migrant workers can make once they return home. Many documented workers are under mandatory work insurance coverage when they encounter problems in Malaysia, but few retain the records they need or gather required evidence to make a valid claim. Stakeholders discussed how Malaysian actors could help clients collect what they need before they return home. At a minimum, the organizations could send evidence back from Malaysia for claimants who are only identified post-return.
The Workshop finished its third day with participants outlining a series of next steps that organizations in Malaysia and Indonesia can take in order to begin developing cross-border claims. These steps are envisioned to take place over the next 8-12 months, and focus on what organizations can do within their current resources.
Closing the event, participants shared that the Workshop had helped them build more practical points of cooperation with their counterparts abroad, and gave them new practical knowledge to deal with migrant worker cases. The insurance discussion in particular is likely to form the basis of additional work this year, as JWB and its partners seek to greatly expand access to this form of compensation for the large number of workers who are covered but have difficulty making claims.