Graft in Bangladeshi labour recruitment to Malaysia?
After a meeting with Expatriates' Welfare Minister Imran Ahmed on June 1, Malaysian Human Resources Minister M Saravanan said the migration cost for the Bangladeshis going to Malaysia under the new deal would be zero.
The deal was signed in December last year.
All costs, including airfare, levy and medical fees, will be borne by the employers, he told journalists in Dhaka.
He also said the government will cancel the quotas of Malaysian employers who collect money from workers.
"The recruitment is scheduled to start "as soon as possible" after the Malaysian cabinet approves the selection of agencies."
This comes as good news for Bangladeshis aspiring to go to Malaysia for jobs, and more so for the government who heavily relies on remittance that makes up a significant portion of the foreign exchange.
It is also important at a time when maintaining the balance of payment has become challenging with the rise in import cost amid price hike of commodities everywhere.
Labour migration experts and recruiting agencies, however, have little faith in Saravan's words.
They argue that the very idea that Malaysia will select the Bangladeshi recruiting agencies for sending workers there is flawed and there are elements of corruption.
The minister also has not specified any on criteria which the agency selection would be based.
According to the experts, Imran's acceptance of Saravanan's proposal is worrying, as the history of labour migration from Bangladesh to Malaysia was never smooth.
According to the history of labour migration from Bangladesh to Malaysia, after a formal beginning of recruitment in 1992, the latter had kept its doors closed for Bangladeshi workers for nearly a decade from 1997. It however opened them temporarily in the 2000 when some 20,000 workers were granted work visas.
Migration then resumed in full-swing again in 2006 but closed in early 2009 when thousands of migrants alleged joblessness, abuse and non-payment of salaries.
Then in 2012, recruitment restarted under the G2G arrangements. Over the next three years, only around 10,000 Bangladeshis were able to get jobs in Malaysia.
Analysts said this was due to powerful lobbyists that worked against recruitment under government arrangement.
In 2016, a new MoU -- G2G Plus -- was signed between Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur. Despite Bangladesh's strong opposition, the then Malaysian government selected only 10 recruitment agencies out of the 745 most eligible ones.
Initially, the migration cost in the MoU was set at Tk 37,000, which was eventually raised to Tk 1.6 lakh. However, in reality, each migrant had to pay Tk 3-4 lakh.
With Malaysia's political changeover in 2018, the then Mahathir-government again closed the migration door for Bangladeshis, citing massive corruption, labour exploitation and other anomalies as reasons. A portion of those in power and a strong business lobby were reportedly behind a syndicate that practised those.
Over the last four years, Malaysia went through a tumultuous time in its export market after the US and European countries suspended import from its manufacturing hub on allegations of forced and trafficked labour.
Some export-oriented companies had to pay back the money they charged from migrant workers from Bangladesh and Nepal. And so, it was naturally expected that the Malaysian authorities would change they way they handled migrant workers.
However, labour analysts say not much has actually changed.
After signing the new MoU with Bangladesh in December last year, Savaranan wrote to Expatriates' Welfare Minister Imran Ahmad on January 14 saying Malaysia would select 25 Bangladeshi agents and 250 subagents for labour recruitment.
Publicly, Saravanan argued that he increased the number of agencies from the previous 10 and cannot allow all agencies to operate as "Malaysia will become a dumping ground for Bangladeshis like in 2007-08."
This argument, however, is not valid.
Malaysian NGO Tenaganita in a research found several anomalies in the Malaysian home ministry's approval of the quotas demanded by the employers of foreign workers. This means Malaysian employers recruited excessive workers because that meant more money for them.
"It was the Malaysian government that was to blame [for such a high number of migrants], not the number of [recruitment] agencies," said Mohammad Harun Al Rashid, who led the research.
Replying to Saravanan on January 18, Imran Ahmad stressed on allowing all valid Bangladeshi recruiting agencies and ensuring transparency. He highlighted the Bangladesh Competition Act 2012 and the International Labour Organisation's charters on overseas labour recruitment.
Over the last few months, members of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies and even some agencies, who were part of the previous 10-member syndicate that manipulated the recruitment in 2017-18, also protested the new syndication through press conferences and human chains.
They argued they had enough experience of how the syndication is not effective, though they were the beneficiaries of the system.
Despite all the allegations, Malaysian Minister Saravanan came here, met Imran Ahmad and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and announced his mandate.
Though he said Bangladeshi migrants will have to pay no fees, local recruiting agents refuse to believe it.
It is now Saravanan's turn to prove them wrong.