Labour migration experts in Malaysia warn of fraud, abuse again

The plan to export manpower to Malaysia under private management without a strict monitoring system may create room for abuse and exploitation of overseas job seekers, as seen in the past, warned labour rights activists.

Malaysia last month announced that 15 lakh Bangladeshis would be recruited in the next three years under B2B (Business-to-Business) agreements.

“However, this initiative only involves fresh workers from Bangladesh. Illegal Bangladeshi immigrants working here are not involved and we will continue to deport them,” Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was quoted as saying by state news agency Bernama on June 26.

Now labour migration activists fear that the initiative, if executed without a foolproof and transparent system, would end up in a disaster.

“The B2B is again going to be a disaster like what we recently witnessed in the sea and on the Thai-Malaysian borders,” said Aegile Fernandez, director of Tenaganita, a Malaysian rights watchdog.

The abusive practices that forced Bangladeshi workers to beg on Malaysian streets in 2007-08 would be repeated if workers are hired without a proper assessment of Malaysia’s requirements and a system to ensure zero cost migration for the workers, she said.

Fernandez spoke to The Daily Star on the sidelines of a regional civil society consultation on mixed migration in South East Asia, held in Kuala Lumpur on June 7-9.

Labour migration from Bangladesh to Malaysia under private management has always been marred by corruption and serious labour exploitation, which resulted in repeated bans — in 1997, 2001 and 2009 — since manpower export to the country officially began in 1992.

During 2006-08, official migration cost was fixed at Tk 84,000 but researchers found that one had to pay more than Tk 2 lakh to go to Malaysia. The extra money, realised from the migrants illegally, would be distributed among brokers, agents and a section of corrupt officials in Malaysia.

Many bogus companies in Malaysia had hired workers and abandoned them or confined them to rooms or had often forced them to work with very low wages.

In 2013, Malaysia started recruiting Bangladeshis under Government-to-Government (G2G) arrangements but only for the plantation sector.

While more than 4 lakh Bangladeshi workers went to Malaysia between 2006 and 2008, only some 10,000 workers were hired under the G2G system since 2013.

“It’s a huge question why Malaysia allowed hiring of Bangladeshi workers under the G2G system only in the plantations. Also, why did Malaysia offer jobs only to 10,000 Bangladeshis in more than two years if it required 5 lakh a year?” said Harun Al Rashid, regional coordinator of CARAM Asia, a Malaysia-based regional network of civil society organisations in Asia.

He believes that certain powerful agents were working behind the failure of the G2G arrangement and reintroduction of the B2B.

Hiring migrant workers under the B2B would only benefit the employers, labour agents and suppliers, said Dato’ M Ramachelvam, chairperson of Migrants, Refugees & Immigration Affairs Committee at Bar Council of Malaysia.

Besides, no assessment had been made to determine how many migrant workers Malaysia needed at the moment and so the announcement of hiring 15 lakha Bangladeshis was just ridiculous, he said.

If Malaysia really needs foreign workers, it should first legalise the illegal migrants instead of deporting them since they are already skilled and can be more productive than the fresh ones, Ramachelvam observed.

Actually, some people wanted to make a huge amount of money through this whole process of recruiting fresh workers and deporting the illegal ones, and this was what this initiative was all about, he commented.

Nilim Baruah, Regional Migration Specialist of International Labour Organisation, told The Daily Star from Bangkok that the ILO was assessing the G2G arrangement in the region and found that it’s really cost-effective for the workers.

“So, the G2G in Malaysia cannot be termed a failure and this option should be kept open even if migrant workers are hired through private sector,” he said.

(Originally published in the Daily Star, Bangladesh.)

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