Bangladesh Welcomes Malaysian Effort to Open Foreign Worker Hiring Process

Sharif Khiam and Ali Nufael
Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur
180814-MY-BD-Migrantworkers1000.jpg Migrant workers stand in a field in Malaysia, Aug. 14, 2018.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Bangladesh has welcomed Malaysia’s decision to end a monopoly on recruitment of workers from the South Asian nation, saying the new measure would cut costs and allow fair competition.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has been reviewing policies of the previous government since taking power in May. He announced talks earlier this week with Bangladesh officials to open the practice of recruiting migrant workers to all employment agents.

“In Bangladesh, there are only 10 agents or companies involved in the hiring of workers and this has resulted in a form of monopoly by these agencies,” Mahathir told reporters.

“There was a case where a man was made to pay 20,000 ringgit (U.S. $4,875) and we’d like to widen the opportunity so there will be a competition among companies involved in employment or intake of workers.”

Mahathir’s announcement followed Malaysian media reports that 50 Bangladeshi workers, representing 270 victims, filed a police report claiming they were cheated by a company promising jobs. One of the victims claimed the company required they turn over their passports and pay 8,000 ringgit ($1,950) with their applications and then did not help them, the New Straits Times reported.

‘Open the market for all’

Ahmed M. Saleheen, the head of the foreign employment wing of the Bangladesh Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, said the Malaysian move would benefit Bangladesh workers.

“When fair competition begins instead of a monopoly, the common Bangladeshi workers who want to go to Malaysia will benefit the most. Migration expenditures will be reduced,” he told BenarNews.

Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, an ex-Minister of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, said he had been pushing for such reforms when he was in office.

“From the beginning, I have been saying that no such syndicate can be [effective]. As long as I was in charge of the ministry, no one could do such a thing,” he told BenarNews.

“I was telling the Malaysian government that the syndicate of 10 agencies could not remain. Open the market for all.”

After chairing a parliamentary committee meeting on foreign workers on Tuesday, Mahathir said his government would create a system that will be observed by every country wishing to send workers to Malaysia.

“This single system is being created without isolating any other country. Not just to Bangladesh, Nepal will subscribe to the same system,” he told reporters, adding that the Human Resources Ministry would fine tune the system before it can be implemented.

In addition, the government will set up an independent committee to be chaired by a senior official to examine concerns related to hiring foreign workers.

“Malaysia is facing myriad of problems with regards to the hiring of foreign workers. There are just too many entering the country and there are too many entering without documents,” he said.

As of June 2017, the immigration department recorded 1.7 million foreigners working in Malaysia with Bangladesh nationals accounting for 221,089. The department also reported 728,870 workers from Indonesia and 405,898 from Nepal.

Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran said recently that the government would also review a 2016 memorandum of understanding signed with Bangladesh to import 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers over several years, according to Malaysian media reports.

This, he said, was part of the new government’s decision to reduce the country’s dependency on foreign workers.

Tenaganita, a Malaysian organization fighting for foreign workers’ rights, told BenarNews there was no absolute guarantee that opening the hiring process would end worker exploitation.

“There is no guarantee that a deviation or exploitation will not occur. The new government should be committed to defend the well-being of the foreign workers,” Director Aegile Fernandez said.

“The government should say no to agents or middlemen. The process of taking foreign workers should be done between Malaysian and Bangladesh governments through government-to-government relations,” she said.


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