Foreign Workers: KL moves to reform policy

The new Malaysian government has moved to reform the country's foreign workers' recruitment and management policy, aiming to bring discipline to the sector.

"What is happening now is that there are ad hoc policies. Today one ministry will come up with one policy and tomorrow another policy," said Malaysian Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran yesterday, while speaking to reporters after a programme in Ipoh, the capital of Malaysian state Perak.

To coordinate the overall policies and the management of migrant workers, the new government, led by Mahathir Mohamad, has formed an independent committee which will begin its work in two weeks, he said, according to a report by Malaysian newspaper Malay Mail.

Kulasegaran said the committee, chaired by retired Court of Appeal judge Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Yunus, would conduct townhall sessions in every state to engage all the stakeholders in this regard.

"There are 13 members in the committee, including representatives from my ministry and the home ministry. The committee will come up with suggestions for the government on the holistic intake of foreign workers," he said.

The issue is of utmost importance for Bangladesh as there are an estimated 10 lakh Bangladeshis in Malaysia and half of them are undocumented.

According to migrants and researchers, the foreign workers' sector has been marred by corruption and mismanagement.

Malaysia had suspended the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers through the Foreign Workers' Application Process (SPPA), an online recruitment system, starting from September 1 this year, following allegations that a syndicate of ten Bangladeshi recruiting agencies, in connivance with certain political quarters of the then ruling alliance of Malaysia, had been raking in millions of Ringgit from the migrants.

Each of the Bangladeshis had been charged around Tk 4 lakh as recruitment cost, even though, as per the Government-to-Government (G-to-G) Plus mechanism, the cost should have been Tk 40,000 only.

Earlier from 2006-08, when all private recruiting agencies were involved in recruiting workers in Malaysia, the migration cost was around Tk 2 lakh, even after the two governments had set it at Tk 84,000.

Many of the migrant workers were also promised jobs that were non-existent.

The situation resulted in joblessness and exploitation of the Bangladeshi workers by Malaysian employers and agents. Then, in 2009, Malaysia had frozen labour recruitment from Bangladesh and later restarted it in 2012 through a state-level arrangement. That too did not work well, allegedly due to strong private lobbying in both countries.

In February 2016, the two countries signed the G-to-G Plus deal, under which some two lakh Bangladeshis migrated to Malaysia. After allegations of high-level corruption, the deal was subsequently suspended from September 1, 2018.

Bangladesh and Malaysia then decided to allow all licensed recruitment agencies to recruit labours from Bangladesh following a meeting between M Kulasegaran and Bangladesh's Expatriates' Welfare Minister Nurul Islam in Putrajaya on September 25.

However, the crucial issue in connection to labour relations with Malaysia is the undocumented Bangladeshi workers who are currently there, as the Malaysian government has been arresting thousands of undocumented workers, from Bangladesh and other countries, in a major crackdown from July 1 of this year.

While the Malaysian government wanted to deport the undocumented workers, rights groups have decried the move saying most of the migrants were undocumented because of exploitation by their employers and agents, with many also being victims of human trafficking.

Migrants said most of the five lakh Bangladeshi workers had also applied to the Malaysian immigration, but, of them, only about one lakh might have been issued work permits under the rehiring programme that ended on June 30, 2018.

Bangladesh's Expatriates' Welfare Ministry, in a statement made on September 25, said Malaysia was “positive” about the undocumented Bangladeshi workers, but did not clarify in detail.


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