Why Have Many Vietnamese Workers Died in Malaysia?

Almost 400 Vietnamese guest workers have died in Malaysia since 2004, according to Viet Nam’s Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs. Sai Gon Giai Phong talks with Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Quynh, director of the Overseas Labor Management Department about the problem.

       Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Quynh

Reporter: What are the reasons for those deaths in Malaysia?

Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Quynh: There are two main reasons: health checks before departure have been conducted poorly and without appropriate management for a long time; and Vietnamese guest workers have failed to totally adapt themselves to the new environment and common practices there.

In 2002 when Viet Nam began to export labor to Malaysia, most of the guest workers were farmers living in rural areas. To help them save money and time, labor supplying companies proposed the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs to allow them to have health checks done locally – at local clinics. The establishments could not do this job well. Meanwhile, Malaysian regulations were not strict on that, not requiring the workers to undertake health re-checks before working for their employers.

After 2005, the ministry and the Ministry of Health issued a decision that only general hospitals in cities and provinces check guest workers’ health before departure. And then the death ratio has been reduced significantly.

And how about the new environment, new practices?

Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Quynh: Not understanding Malaysian practices very well, many Vietnamese workers have died of traffic accidents or suffered from sudden deaths. About traffic, for example, vehicles must go on the left in Malaysia while it is the right in Viet Nam. Many Vietnamese workers did not follow that rule.

Drinking is another cause of sudden deaths. Malaysians rarely drink, but a habit of Vietnamese workers is drinking, and many have produced alcohols by themselves, and these alcohols are toxic. Another habit is after drinking, they take the shower and then lay on the floor with an running fan. This easily courts disaster.

About one-third of fatalities were sudden deaths. But there were also cases in which deaths were caused by fighting among drunk men.

What ever the reasons are, should the Overseas Labor Management Department, and the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs take responsibility?

Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Quynh: We do not shun responsibility. And we stress it’s not true that Vietnamese guest workers have to work in a harmful working environment.

So, what are the breakthrough measures the ministry will take to remedy the situation?

The Ministry of Health has to check the health of Vietnamese workers working abroad periodically. At the same time it has to regularly check medical centers and hospitals authorized to examine health of the workers.

The two ministries will work together to issue tight regulations on examining workers’ health to make sure that only workers with good health can go abroad.

We will also focus on job education for workers and providing them with necessary knowledge about common practices in the countries where they are going to work.

By Quang Phuong – Translated by Phuong Lan

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