Around 5.5 lakh undocumented Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia remain vulnerable to exploitation and are unable to seek justice when victimised -- a situation akin to human trafficking, rights bodies Tenaganita and CARAM Asia have said.
According to the Kuala Lumpur-based organisations, the migrants undergo various forms of violations, including physical and mental abuses, long hours of work without any overtime pay and wage deductions, which leave them in debt bondage as they spend exorbitant fees for overseas jobs.
“The undocumented workers have no access to healthcare and treatment, and are unable to seek justice or obtain compensation,” Tenaganita Executive Director Glorene Dass said in a statement on Thursday.
Tenaganita and CARAM Asia launched a fact sheet on Bangladeshi migrants in Malaysia to create awareness on migrants' conditions and to demand protection of rights of the migrants, who significantly contribute to the country's economy.
“Workers come to us with complaints of poor wages and working conditions often in violation of the National Minimum Wage Act and Employment Act,” said Glorene.
Such practices cause extreme hardship and unhappiness and thus affect their productivity in Malaysia which hosts some eight lakh Bangladeshis, she added.
“The current conditions they are in can be categorised as human trafficking.”
Even, workers with proper documents are also subjected to various forms of violations by the employers, who withhold their passports. This sometimes leads to arrest, detention and deportation of the migrants, Glorene said.
She said labour recruiters in Bangladesh and Malaysia take undue advantage of the migrants, who desperately seek jobs, by charging exorbitant recruitment fees, often far exceeding the amount set by the government.
According to her, Malaysia has Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act-2007, but the government has issued licences to labour outsourcing agencies that do not come under strict scrutiny of the authorities.
As a result, these outsourcing agencies bring in migrant workers without a permit or job assurance, leading to many problems, she pointed out.
“Absence of comprehensive policies for the recruitment of migrants has become an opportunity for human traffickers to make money and exploit undocumented migrants.”
Labour migration from Bangladesh to Malaysia has always been fraught with anomalies since it formally began in 1992 with repeated closures and opening of its doors for the Bangladeshis.
The Southeast Asian country had kept its doors closed to Bangladeshi workers for nearly a decade from 1997, except in 2000 when some 20,000 were granted visas. The migration resumed in 2006 and continued till early 2009.
Malaysia recruited some 8,000 Bangladeshi workers under a government-to-government (G2G) agreement signed in November 2012 after a four-year freeze from early 2009. Under the arrangement, the migration cost was set below Tk 60,000.
The rate was Tk 84,000 when the private sector handled the recruitment in 2006 and early 2009. But studies found that workers were charged over Tk 2 lakh each.
In February 2016, Bangladesh and Malaysia signed a G2G Plus deal involving the private sector. However, only 10 recruiting agencies were authorised for recruiting workers to Malaysia under the deal.
Migrants in Malaysia said the Bangladeshis going to Malaysia now spend on an average Tk 3.5 lakh. The minimum salary for Bangladeshi workers there is Malaysian Ringgit 800 (Tk 16,000).
Tenaganita and CARAM Asia suggested that Malaysia puts in place a clear process for victims of exploitation to make a complaint with the knowledge that they will be protected.
They suggested that the recruitment of migrants should be based on actual labour needs, and that the recruitment fees covering visa, health insurance, airfare should be covered by the employers.