Worry hangs over hope
It has always been mutual: Malaysia needs workers, and Bangladesh has plenty of them. That's why, Malaysia, after Saudi Arabia, has become the second most sought-after destination for Bangladeshi jobseekers. Given this, a transparent system for labour recruitment could have dismantled the human trafficking chain and also save the lives of hundreds of migrant workers. But why the two countries have so far failed to devise one such mechanism? In the second part of a three-part series, The Daily Star focuses on new recruitment system for workers.
A Malaysian delegation reached Dhaka yesterday to discuss the mode of labour recruitment through the private sector amid a number of controversies and unaddressed concerns.
The four-member delegation, led by Malaysia's immigration department's Director General Datuk Mustafa Ibrahim, would hold discussions with high officials of the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training today.
Tomorrow, they would hold a meeting with Expatriates' Welfare Minister Nurul Islam and then the ministry officials, an official of the ministry told The Daily Star.
“We will share our ideas … but the recruitment mode will be finalised later,” the official said.
A Malaysian business delegation also arrived in Dhaka on Saturday to discuss its online recruitment system with the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), said a leader of Baira.
As the discussions are about to begin, the question is how the two countries are going to have a mechanism that would be foolproof. The private sector engagement in manpower export in 2007-08 had caused massive labour exploitations.
Additional migration cost, surplus labour recruitment due to the involvement of too many agents, and the introduction of outsourcing companies had resulted in a ban on labour migration to Malaysia in early 2009.
More than four lakh Bangladeshi workers were recruited during that time, but many had remained jobless, coerced into working without wage or were given low wages and many were deported penniless.
After four years of the freeze, Malaysia introduced recruitment through state management (G2G), but employed only 10,000 workers in its plantation sector in more two years.
In late June, Malaysia's Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said his country would recruit 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers in the next three years through private sector (B2B). He also said a similar number of irregular or undocumented workers already in Malaysia would be deported.
Malaysia plans to introduce an online system for the management of workers' recruitment, visa processing, medical checkups and the monitoring of workers, officials at the expatriates' welfare ministry and Baira said.
However, Malaysia suspended a similar online system on January 26 two weeks after its introduction following allegations from Indonesia and Nepal that their workers were being charged higher fees.
These countries had also threatened to stop sending workers to Malaysia if Foreign Workers Centralised Management System (FWCMS) was used and biometric health checks were done.
Malaysia had outsourced the services to Bestinet, which is owned, among others, by Tan Sri Azmi Khalid, a leader of the Malaysian ruling party, and Bangladeshi Aminul Islam, who has permanent resident status in Malaysia.
Aminul Islam, who went to Malaysia as a worker over a decade ago, got PR status marrying a Malaysian and had made a fortune through manpower business over the years, sources said.
Some agents in Malaysia said Bestinet was now trying to introduce its system for recruiting Bangladeshi workers.
Another IT company, Real Time Networking Sdn Bhd, registered in Malaysia on March 5 this year, was also trying to have a contract with the Malaysian home ministry for an online system on recruitment and monitoring of Bangladeshi workers, a Baira source said.
The owners of Real Time Networking include Dato Raja Azahar bin Abdul Manap, Dato Abdul Hakim bin Hamidi, Dato Md Abu Hanif bin Abul Kashem (a Bangladeshi with Malaysian PR status), Datin Nur Firzanah, Abbas Ali and Rosli Ab Ghani.
The Baira official said one shareholder of Real Time was a close relative of a powerful Malaysian minister and others were connected to the ruling party one way or the other.
Involvement of politically backed people in the migration of Bangladeshi workers could result in problems, the official said.
THAT MANY WORKERS?
Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) Executive Director Datuk Hj Shamsuddin Bardan said they were focusing on local labour instead of foreign workers.
“Outlook of our economy is not that encouraging. Ringgit is depreciating and petroleum price is going down. The demand for services and product is declining,” he told The Daily Star over the phone on July 27.
Malaysia's state-owned oil firm Petronas reported in late May a net profit of 11.4 billion ringgit for the January-March period, which was 7.3 billion ringgit lower than that of the same period in 2014, according to Reuters.
These factors led to about 10,000 job cuts in Malaysia as of July this year, Malaysian newspaper Daily Express quoted Shamsuddin as saying in a report on July 23.
"Also, the government has decided not to employ new staff, save for critical or sensitive posts," said Shamsuddin, adding that this would affect about 10 percent of the job market and leads to an economic slowdown.
Against this backdrop, MEF had requested the government to review its decision to recruit 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers. The MEF has not received any response from the Malaysian government yet, he said.
4.6M IRREGULAR WORKERS
Malaysia said it would deport 1.5 million illegal migrants in phases as it recruits the same number.
Malaysian Trade Union Congress Secretary General N Gopal Kishnam said the country had some 2.4 million documented and 4.6 million undocumented migrant workers.
Of an estimated six lakh Bangladeshis there, 3 lakh are irregular.
“The government has to address the issue of the undocumented migrant workers first and then, if needed, recruit fresh workers,” he told The Daily Star.
Regularising the irregular migrants would help Malaysian economy as they were already skilled and know the local language, he said.
Contacted, Bangladesh High Commissioner in Malaysia Shahidul Islam said creating job opportunities abroad was important for Bangladesh, but it must be at low cost.
“For this to happen, we are discussing various options, including online system. Nothing is finalised yet,” he told The Daily Star at Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur recently.
Malaysia now has a shortage of 57 lakh workers, and if Bangladeshis do not take the opportunity, others will, he said.
On regularising undocumented workers, Shahidul said it was a security issue for Malaysia, especially those coming to Malaysia through the sea.