Sunday, 2 October, 2022
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Not Enough Workers for Malaysia: Reasons and Remedy

A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

Not Enough Workers for Malaysia: Reasons and Remedy
A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

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On 9 August, Bangladeshi workers landed on Malaysian soil after crossing an embargo for almost 4 years. 53 workers went to the country on this journey. It is to be noted that with the change of government in Malaysia in May 2018, a ban was imposed on the recruitment of workers from Bangladesh in September of that year due to widespread allegations of exploitation in the recruitment system. After a number of meetings and negotiations between the two countries at different levels, Malaysia agreed to withdraw the ban. Following the decision agreed by both parties, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two countries in December last year in Kuala Lumpur. And accordingly, Bangladeshi workers started going to Malaysia. We hope that our workers will continue to go to Malaysia without any hindrance in the coming days.

A few days ago, on 4 August, the Minister for Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, Mr. Imran Ahmad, while talking to the reporters, said that despite the preparations of the two countries, not enough Bangladeshi workers are available to be sent to Malaysia. He said, “Malaysia is ready and so are we. But I am not getting enough workers to send to that country. We have allowed 2,200 people through 13 agents. But we want to send more workers to Malaysia.” When asked about the reasons for not getting enough workers, the minister urged the reporters to ask those who send the workers, that is, to the recruiting agencies. However, he said, “We would also like to know why they are not able to prepare enough workers. We will take note and necessary action." He also added, "Malaysian labour market is completely open from our side. People are not going, because things are not moving forward from the other side.”

Now the question is why are not enough workers available? What does he mean to say that the matter is not moving forward from the other side? What are the reasons behind this situation? Has it never come to the mind of our concerned authorities that this might happen? It is desirable that our authorities know the factors which control the sector directly or indirectly, particularly in case of Malaysia. If the details of those factors are known to them, this kind of problem should not arise. Anyway, the solution of that problem is not too difficult. Only some 'special facilities' are to be provided in the process of sending the workers, which may slightly increase the cost of migration. This type of arrangement is being done frequently in Bangladesh. It does not seem to have stirred much in the consciousness of our workers. They do not care to bear the cost of migration, whatever the amount is. 

However, the most important stage is the selection process of workers. If workers are selected from BMET's data bank, then there would be no way of providing the said 'special facilities'. As per the memorandum of understanding signed in 2012, it was not possible with the 'G2G' process. But other ways can be made if the recruiting agencies directly recruit and send the workers to Malaysia as was done in 2016 through 'G2G Plus'. At that time, the syndicate of 10 agencies (Malaysian daily 'The Star' termed it 'Organized Trafficking Syndicate') pocketed millions of dollars, but a few hundred thousand of workers were able to go to Malaysia. However, considering the overall situation, I think our authorities will be able to take necessary action.

In this context, I would like to say that during the discussion with the Malaysian government about the 'G2G' system, we had tried to convince them in involving our recruiting agencies in the system in some way. But it was not possible because they were adamant not to include them. Their only fear was that the inclusion of recruiting agencies would allow the exploitation of poor workers, increasing the cost of migration. And if recruiting agencies were not involved, we were afraid that this would hinder the smooth recruitment of enough workers. Finally, that had happened. And that's why the system called 'G2G Plus' was brought to fulfil their purpose, even though the cost of migration increased manifold.

Some of the reasons why Malaysian employers did not come forward to recruit workers under G2G system, despite having enough workers, need to be mentioned here to address the current apprehensions. Almost all the recruiting agencies in our country are well connected with many influential people in Malaysia. The recruiting agencies, which were kept aside, in collusion with Malaysian employers, especially small and medium-sized employers, created a negative environment in recruiting workers from Bangladesh. The brokers or middlemen play an important role in Malaysia in supplying foreign workers to the employers as well as dealing all local official works on behalf of the employers. Political influence is also a major factor. If the owners of the currently selected 25 recruiting agencies are the government party supporters then the possibility of such moves cannot be ruled out. Even if it is not sweet to hear, money has a big role to play. Our experience says that not only the influential leaders are to be taken care of, but agencies need to pay the employers a certain amount in advance to collect demand letters. For these reasons, the G2G system could not survive in Malaysia despite considerable demand for workers.

Meanwhile, a report published in the English daily 'Sun' on 13 August has stated that not giving a damn about civility, decency and manners, Bangladeshi manpower exporters are now going to the houses of the ministers and MPs of Malaysia to beg their favour for sending workers to that country. Even, according to the report, the names of some Bangladeshi recruiting agencies have been forwarded to the country’s Prime Minister. Their efforts are more likely to be successful. And if that is the case, the previous list of 25 agencies may be increased and may double in size. Because, the vested interest groups of Malaysia and Bangladesh love to play with our 'migrant workers'. They find this game very interesting and profitable. What's the harm if it turns into a bigger event? Will it be a problem for the existing players? This is what we have been seeing. For the welfare of the workers, does anyone even think a little?

The said report has mentioned words like civility, decency and manners. It also raised the question of damaging Bangladesh’s image. If one could think in cool brain, it does not seem necessary to raise these words. It is natural that businessmen will take various initiatives to sustain or expand their business. Where our government has failed to increase the list of 25 recruiting agencies specified by Malaysia, if some of the recruiting agencies can increase the scope by their own efforts, does it become uncivil or impolite? What way our recruiting agencies follow while sending workers to other countries? Today, if a Bangladeshi garments exporter find a foreign buyer by dint of his efforts, will it be something uncivil? If we encourage that, why is it wrong if recruiting agencies do the same? They are also going to do business with a government license?

It seems to me that not only 50, if all recruiting agencies can take the advantage of sending workers from Bangladesh, more workers will be able to go, the market will be more competitive. In fact, it is the responsibility of the government to make policies, to establish systems and business people will follow those while operating business activities. Therefore, it is important for the authorities to focus on the process of recruitment of workers. We have to work on the selection process, so that the recruiting agencies do not get any opportunity to exploit our workers, the workers can go abroad at minimum migration cost. If the recruiting agencies follow an exploitation-free 'migrant friendly' process, the number of recruiting agencies does not matter. However, our authorities must keep in mind the need for continuous monitoring of the recruiting agencies. The only solution to all the problems is to send our workers to Malaysia through a fair and non-exploitative 'migrant friendly' process involving all our recruiting agencies.

 

The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary