The deal signed by Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur yesterday leaves a legacy of controversies and creates chances of corruption and labour exploitation like that during 2007-08, experts and industry insiders have said.
The agreement for G2G Plus recruitment system has a provision for including a Malaysian private company to regulate the process, which created scopes for monopoly in the hiring of 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers over the next three years, they said.
Apart from that, the minimum wage has been set at Malaysian ringgit 800-900 (Tk 15,000-16,000), which is very low and is a result of poor negotiations by Bangladesh, according to experts.
At the same time, the deal has been signed at a time when the outlook of Malaysian economy is not bright, with its businesses saying there will be oversupply of foreign workers.
Nevertheless, after signing of the deal, Bangladesh's Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Nurul Islam and Malaysian Human Resources Minister Richard Riot Anak Jaem said it would ensure a “systematic and transparent” recruitment mechanism.
“There will have no element of monopoly. The recruitment will be fair and transparent,” Richard told reporters in Dhaka.
The MoU will prevent false labour elements and trafficking-in-person activities, he said.
The realities, however, do not speak the same.
According to an official of Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, the name of Synerflux has not been mentioned in the MoU, and yet Malaysia has authorised the company to regulate the recruitment process through online.
Mohammed Abul Basher, president of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), in a letter to the Prime Minister on February 16 said the company through its syndicate members would have scopes to make profits unilaterally, and deceit workers.
It was not Synerflux alone, however. Since June last year, other companies like Bestinet and Real Time Networking also lobbied Malaysia and Bangladesh governments to win contract, but finally Malaysia chose Synerflux.
According Malaysian media, Synerflux is owned -- directly or indirectly -- by relatives of a ruling party minister.
Though migration cost in the deal has been set at Tk 37, 000 per worker, it is bound to go up significantly if there is a syndicate of several agencies working from behind, said Professor CR Abrar, who teaches International Relations at Dhaka University and researches migration.
During 2007-08, it was fixed at Tk 84,000, but in reality the cost went up over Tk 2 lakh. More people were hired than needed, leaving many jobless. Many of those who got jobs were underpaid or even unpaid as many were recruited for companies that did not exist. Thousands returned home sick and empty-handed.
That prompted both the governments to go for the G2G process in late 2012. Under the system, migration cost was fixed at Tk 32,000, but only some 10,000 workers were hired in plantation jobs.
Experts question why all other sectors were not opened under the G2G.
“It is said that G2G was made to fail, but has our government assessed why it failed?” said the professor.
Industry insiders say powerful lobbies saw to it that the project fails and they are the ones behind the new deal.
“If workers can be sent at Tk 37,000 this time, it is good. But it is very difficult to be optimistic. Chances are that there will be a repeat of the 2007-08 situations,” Abrar added.
When real wage in Malaysia has gone down, Bangladesh has failed to lobby for higher minimum wages for workers.
“Such a deal with low pay is ridiculous,” said a Baira leader.
He thinks the syndicate led by Synerflux is so strong that the Bangladesh government has given in to its influence.
However, a joint secretary of the expatriates' welfare ministry said the Bangladeshis would get the same salaries as the Malaysians' under the law.
MALAYSIAN ECONOMY DOWN
As Malaysia's economy is now slowing in the face of falling oil prices, real earnings of the Bangladeshis have come down. The value of one ringgit, which was Tk 24-27 in 2012, has come down to Tk 18.
It now takes more than 4.2 ringgits to buy one dollar, which was a little over 3 ringgits early last year.
Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) President Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said due to the current economic climate “an influx of migrant workers may result in an over supply”.
Currently, he said, there are about 2.1 million registered foreign workers and there are plans by the Government to legalise between two and three million undocumented workers soon.
Mohammad Harun Al Rashid, regional coordinator of Caram Asia, a regional NGO on migration, said thousands of Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia were already in problems -- with low-paid jobs or joblessness.
“Hiring fresh workers without ensuring a foolproof mechanism will create another disaster like that of 2007-08,” he told this correspondent by phone from Kuala Lumpur.
He questioned why a certain company is involved in recruitment from Bangladesh, which is not the case of other labour-source countries like Nepal or Indonesia.
Besides, thousands of low-skilled Bangladeshis were employed in Malaysia in professional categories in the last few years, but most of them are now jobless and undocumented, Harun added.
However, Bangladesh has not sought any clarification from Malaysian authorities, he said, adding: “Thus, we Bangladeshis are losing our dignity in foreign land.”