Bangladesh to Send 1.5 Million Workers to Malaysia

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
160218-BD-mou-620 Bangladesh Expatriate Welfare Minister Nurul Islam (left) and Malaysian Human Resources Minister Richard Riot Anak Jaem sign a memorandum of understanding in Dhaka, whereby Malaysia will recruit 1.5 million Bangladeshis for jobs over the next three years, Feb. 18, 2016.

Bangladesh and Malaysia on Thursday signed a memorandum whereby Kuala Lumpur will recruit up to 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers over the next three years for its agriculture and manufacturing sectors, officials in Dhaka said.

Malaysian Human Resources Minister Richard Riot Anak Jaem and Bangladesh Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Nurul Islam signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) in the Bangladeshi capital.

“We welcome the agreement. If the agreement is implemented through close monitoring, at least 1 million Bangladeshi workers would get jobs in the Malaysian plantation, agriculture and manufacturing sectors,” Abul Bashar, president of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA), told BenarNews.

However, Malaysia’s biggest labor union sent a complaint to the government on Thursday, in which it objected to discussion by Malaysian officials in recent weeks about taking in as many as 1.5 million documented workers from Bangladesh.

“The MTUC feels if the government is serious about achieving high-income status for Malaysia, it should limit the intake of foreign workers,” the state-run Bernama news agency quoted the Malaysian Trades Union Congress as saying in a memorandum that it sent to the Ministry of Human Resources.

“The country does not have to rely on labor resources from foreign countries. This situation will certainly harm the economy and have an adverse impact on the local population,” the MTUC’s memorandum added.

On Thursday, Malaysian government officials did not issue any statements confirming the signing of the bilateral memorandum in Dhaka. In addition, Malaysian media accounts of the  MoU signing were based on news reports out of Bangladesh.

A legal immigration route

The MoU will boost the population of Bangladeshi migrants working in Malaysia, where 600,000 Bangladeshis are employed in the construction and plantation sectors.

The government-to-government plan apparently will also offer migrants from Bangladesh a legal route to jobs in Malaysia, rather than them paying human traffickers huge sums of money to smuggle them into the Southeast Asian country in search of work.

“I have to send 20,000 takas (U.S. $250) back home every month because my father has sent me here, taking a loan from my maternal uncle,” Mohammad Shamim, a construction worker in Malaysia’s Selangor state, told BenarNews.

In 2015, hundreds of Bangladeshis were among boatloads of undocumented people who landed on shores in Indonesia and Malaysia after the Thai government launched a crackdown on human trafficking and imposed a naval blockade on smugglers’ vessels.

“Malaysia is one of the big labor markets for Bangladesh after Saudi Arabia. If the recruiters bear the cost of travel, migration would contribute to reduce poverty,” Saiful Haque, president of the Warbe Foundation, an NGO dedicated to the welfare of workers, told BenarNews.

MoU limits relocation cost

The memorandum signed on Thursday stipulates that employers will pay for travel costs to send Bangladeshi workers to Malaysia, but that these will be capped at 40,000 takas (U.S. $500) per worker, Ihsanul Karim, the press secretary for Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, told reporters in Dhaka.

Private recruiting agencies would be involved in the process, Karim said.

BAIRA’s Abul Bashar said Malaysia had closed its labor market to Bangladeshi workers, which in turn caused many migrants to turn to traffickers to smuggle them into Malaysia by sea.

“The high migration cost is one of the reasons for the illegal trade in of the workers,” Nazneen Ahmed, an economist at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies who specializes in labor, told BenarNews.

“Orderly migration reduces poverty,” Ahmed added.

Bangladesh’s economy is largely dependent on remittances sent home by back to migrant workers. Bangladesh’s expatriate migrant workforce numbers around 9 million people.

In 2015, migrants sent U.S. $15 billion back home, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training of Bangladesh.

‘No issue here’

The signing of the MoU came 12 days after Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that the government would grant 2 million undocumented foreign workers, who were already in Malaysia, the opportunity to apply for work permits.

Before the memorandum was signed, reports about the plan to bring in up to 1.5 million Bangladeshi drew criticism from Malaysian labor circles.

On Thursday, a state minister in the eastern state of Sabah responded publicly to a message posted on social media that had gone viral and which suggested that Sabah was permitting the entry Bangladeshi workers.

“There is no issue here. The policy still stands not to allow them to come in,” Bernama quoted Siringan Gubat, the state minister of Human Resource Development and Information Technology.

He was referring to a policy announced by the Sabah government three years ago, when the state’s cabinet announced that it was no longer allowing Bangladeshi migrants to work there.

Ahmad Najmi Nasruddin and Suhana Osman contributed to this report.


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