Firm with dubious records in charge

Malaysia appoints Synerflux to recruit workers from Bangladesh; rights groups say the decision will lead to monopoly

Malaysia has appointed a private company to manage recruitment of Bangladeshi workers under the new G2G Plus system, despite rights groups’ fears that the appointment of a single company will lead to monopoly.

The Malaysian company — Synerflux Sdn Bhd — that got the job is owned by former Malaysian home minister Azmi Khalid and Bangladesh origin Malaysian resident Aminul Islam, a competent source said.

Malaysia wants to implement a fully online system known as Bangladeshi Workers Management System (BWMS). For this, Synerflux will be the “sole and exclusive entity” that will develop, maintain and manage the system.

The proposed system is similar to the one run by another company, Bestinet, which was also owned by Azmi Khalid and Aminul Islam. The company’s operation was suspended on January 26 following allegations by Indonesia and Nepal that their workers were being charged higher fees.

“As Bestinet drew sharp criticisms, they [the owners] started the new company, Synerflux,” the source added.

Its appointment was done without consulting the Bangladesh government, according to sources.

Wishing anonymity, a Bangladesh government official said recruiting agents and governments of both the countries would have to fully depend on Synerflux if it finally got the job.

“It will actually deploy sub-agents in Malaysia to collect job demands and thus the recruitment system would be monopolised. It may even control the recruiting agents in Bangladesh,” he said.

An official of the Malaysian High Commission in Dhaka last night said the mission was not aware of the development. He did not want to be named or comment further as he is not authorised to.

In a letter on September 21, the Malaysian foreign ministry communicated about Synerflux to Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.

Synerflux will have offices in Bangladesh and Malaysia, and will supervise bio-medical process for workers’ registration, verification of eligibility, medical screening and delivery of visas issued by the Malaysian High Commission in Dhaka, the letter said.

“The Ministry therefore seeks the High Commission’s kind cooperation to extend all necessary support and assistance to Synerflux to ensure a smooth and orderly implementation by early October 2015,” it said.

The Daily Star has obtained a copy of the letter.

Kazi Abul Kalam, joint secretary of Bangladesh’s Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, said they received the proposal and were assessing it, but no decision was made yet.

The appointment of Synerflux comes after two of its delegations visited Dhaka — in early August and in mid-September — to finalise ways to recruit Bangladeshi workers through private sector, known as B2B.

The B2B was initiated following the apparent failure of state-level or G2G recruitment. Just about 10,000 Bangladeshis were hired through this method since 2013 and only as plantation workers.

In June this year, Malaysia announced that it would recruit 1.5 million Bangladeshis in the next three years.

Currently, some 6,00,000 Bangladeshis are working there, about half of them believed to be undocumented. Malaysia said it would send back the undocumented migrants and replace them with the fresh recruits.

Migrant rights organisations are critical of the fresh recruitment decision, saying Malaysia should first regularise the undocumented ones if the country really needed foreign workers, especially as its economy is down with falling values of Ringgit.

They are also wary of Malaysian government’s outsourcing of private company. They say handling immigration data by a private company is not a good idea because it is a security issue. Also, there are huge scopes for monopoly and corruption that might lead to labour abuse.

In August, two IT companies — Real Time Networking Sdn Bhd and Bestinet — had lobbied for the recruitment job, but later backtracked after Malaysian media and rights groups raised a hue and cry.

Real Time is owned by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s brother Abdul Hakim Hamidi, according to Malaysiakini, an online news portal of Malaysia.

Contacted, Muhammed Abul Basher, president of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), said they conveyed their concerns about Synerflux to Nurul Islam, expatriates welfare minister of Bangladesh.

“Synerflux is actually syndicating with certain recruiting agents in Bangladesh. We don’t want any syndicate. We all, 1,200 members of Baira, want to do business,” he said.

It may be mentioned that Basher had earlier endorsed Real Time Networking for the hiring job.

Mohammad Harun-Al Rashid, regional coordinator of CARAM Asia, a regional migrant rights network based in Kuala Lumpur, told The Daily Star that Bangladesh needed to critically analyse the company profile and the way the recruitment would be done.

“It is because labour recruitment system between Malaysia and Bangladesh has always been flawed. Time and again, migrants were brought in at high migration costs. Often they were unemployed and seriously exploited,” he said.

Malaysia had frozen labour recruitment from Bangladesh in early 2009 after discovery of massive anomalies in recruitment that caused abuses in 2006-08. During the time, official migration cost was set at Tk 84,000 per person, but job seekers were charged around Tk 2 lakh.

Later in 2012, Bangladesh and Malaysia signed an MoU on G2G, through which Bangladesh could send workers for less than Tk 40,000 each, though only in plantation sector.

Malaysia also did not open other sectors like construction, manufacturing and services although under the G2G Plus it wants to recruit Bangladeshis in all sectors.

Brokers said powerful lobbies were the reason why the G2G failed, and these groups lobbied both the Malaysian and the Bangladeshi authorities again to open labour market through the private sector.

During its visit to Dhaka in mid-September, the Malaysian delegation said it would not allow Bangladeshi recruiting agents or brokers to collect job demands from the Malaysian employers, saying brokers were behind the high migration cost and other malpractices.

Harun Al Rashid of CARAM Asia suggested that the Malaysian government itself operate the system, instead of Synerflux, if it is really interested in recruiting Bangladeshi workers because, “[Malaysia’s] track record of recruiting migrants from Bangladesh is very bad”.

(Originally published in The Daily Star, Bangladesh.)

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