Malaysia Expresses ‘Shock’ over Bangladesh Embassy’s Jobs Portal for Undocumented Workers

S. Adie Zul and Jesmin Papri
Kuala Lumpur and Dhaka
2021-04-15
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Malaysia Expresses ‘Shock’ over Bangladesh Embassy’s Jobs Portal for Undocumented Workers Migrant workers enjoy a donated Christmas meal on the premises of the Bangladeshi High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, Dec. 25, 2007.
AFP

Malaysia’s Human Resources minister said Thursday he was “shocked” that Bangladesh’s embassy had launched a jobs portal to help its citizens connect directly with Malaysian recruiters, without seeking Kuala Lumpur’s consent.

The Malaysian government uses its own employment portal and licensed private recruiters, so a conflicting website would confuse employers, may cause an influx of illegal workers and jeopardize Malaysians’ job prospects, Minister M. Saravanan said.

“I am shocked and appalled with the action of the Bangladesh High Commission that has launched its employment portal without prior consultation nor notification to the Ministry of Human Resources,” Saravanan said in a statement.

“It is unreasonable on the part of the High Commission to take such action which goes against the roles and responsibilities of a foreign diplomatic mission.”

Responding to Saravan’s statement, the Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur said its “Chakrir Khoj” jobs portal targeted only undocumented Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia and was created to assist the Malaysian government in a program geared for legalizing undocumented migrants.

“The Bangladesh High Commission has recently launched an online job portal namely ‘Chakrir Khoj’ targeting only the illegal Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia to find suitable employers,” Golam Sarwar, Dhaka’s high commissioner in Kuala Lumpur, said in a statement.

“This initiative is to help the Recalibration Program declared by Malaysian government without prejudice to our ongoing negotiations for the recruitment of new workers from Bangladesh.”

The program began last November and allows for the recalibration, or legalization, of some undocumented foreign workers.

Meanwhile, it turns out that Mohd. Asri Abd. Wahab, Malaysia’s Labor Department deputy director-general, attended the April 8 virtual ceremony to launch the Bangladesh jobs portal.

A Labor Department official, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters on the issue, said Wahab’s presence at the launch did not reflect the government’s acceptance of Bangladesh’s jobs portal.

“The deputy director general was merely attending an invitation to discuss the foreign workers Recalibration Program. Had we known beforehand that the invitation was related to the launching of the job portal that is not recognized by us, the Human Resources Ministry would not have accepted the invitation,” the official told BenarNews.

Migrant population

Malaysia’s manufacturing and construction sectors and especially its palm oil plantations rely on foreign labor.

Malaysia hosts 1.7 million legal foreign workers, according to government data. In 2018, more than 268,000 Bangladeshis were working legally in Malaysia, the data showed.

The World Bank estimates that between 1.23 million and 1.46 million undocumented migrants worked in Malaysia in 2017.

In October, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had said that palm oil and rubber plantations were facing a manpower shortage after the government closed the country’s borders to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The recalibration program was the government’s plan to deal with these shortages.

Bangladesh’s Sarwar claimed that Malaysia’s foreign ministry and immigration officials had requested his embassy’s help with the program.

Sarwar also said his embassy had received requests from “several” Malaysian employers to help them to find suitable Bangladeshi undocumented workers for employment under the program.

Those requests were made “as the … program [did] not allow any third party vendors to help the employers to search for undocumented foreign workers,” Sarwar said.

Recalibration and demand for foreign workers

Malaysia’s Saravanan also addressed the issues of recalibration and foreign labor demand in his statement.

“The recalibration program handled by the Human Resources and Home Affairs commenced on Nov. 16 last year and is to end on June 30 this year. It is being executed by government entities and employers without the involvement of vendors or third parties,” Saravanan said.

Besides, employers have to apply to the immigration and labor departments requesting them to allow certain foreign workers to be ‘recalibrated,’ or legalized. The program is limited to the recalibration of workers in the manufacturing, construction, plantation and agriculture sectors – deemed “difficult, dangerous or dirty” by the government.

On the issue of Malaysian employees seeking suitable foreign workers, Saravanan said that his ministry managed a national employment portal, MyFutureJobs, which advertises domestic job vacancies involving the recruitment of foreign workers.

This recruitment is managed by private employment agencies licensed by the Department of Labor.

The presence of a Bangladeshi jobs portal “can mislead and create confusion” in the minds of the public and local employers, and have other ill effects, Saravanan said.

“The employment portal may cause the influx of Bangladeshi illegal workers to the country which could lead to exploitation due to the uncertainty of their immigration status that could mar Malaysia’s image,” the Malaysian minister said.

Last September, the United States announced an immediate ban on imports of palm oil from Malaysia’s largest producer, citing forced labor.

In addition, Bangladesh’s portal could jeopardize the business of more than 400 government-licensed private employment agencies, the minister said.

 “These local companies have been out of business for over a year but are still paying the required license fee,” he said, referring to the period of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Saravanan acknowledged that many sectors deemed “unattractive” depend on foreign workers.

Still, he said, his ministry has always given primacy to local workers when it comes to filling job vacancies.

Saravanan said he was in talks with employers from the sectors affected by the pandemic to urge them advertise their job openings on the government’s jobs portal.

This is “to ensure that no local workers are deprived of their opportunity to secure employment,” he said.

Saravanan also said he was mandated to prepare a comprehensive paper on the actual requirement of foreign workers in all sectors.

“As such, it is inappropriate for the Bangladesh High Commission to launch the said employment portal in Malaysia which is seen as undermining the government’s plans to manage the actual demand of foreign labor in the country.”

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