13th Jan 2024 TBS: Plight of jobless Bangladeshi in Malaysia. Who is to blame?
Bangladesh sent around 4 lakh Bangladeshi workers to Malaysia since the labour market reopened in August 2022.
Original version: The Business Standard by Kamran Siddiqui – 13th January 2024
In July 2023, Sumon Hossain, a man in his twenties from Jhenaidah, ventured to Malaysia as a construction worker, paying Tk4.5 lakh to a private recruiting agency. But, upon arrival, he found himself jobless.
Sayra Banu, his mother, has now lodged a complaint with the Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training (BMET), seeking assistance in securing a job for her son.
“Workless, hungry, and abused on foreign soil – that is my son’s reality. He is shuffled between shelters, and denied even a stable roof over his head by the recruiting agency,” Sayra wrote in the complaint letter.
Approaching the agency, however, brought no solace, only further mistreatment, she added.
Thousands of some 4 lakh Bangladeshi workers who have gone to Malaysia since the country opened its labour market in August 2022 have found themselves jobless and vulnerable to exploitation.
A source from the BMET’s employment division told TBS that similar complaints from Malaysia-bound workers have sharply risen since December last year.
“Earlier, around 85% of complaints were from Saudi Arabia. But now we are getting 50-50 complaints from both Malaysia and Saudi,” he said.
Migration sector insiders blame a tangled web of employers, middlemen, and recruiting agencies lure desperate workers with fake offers of high-paying jobs and artificially inflate migration fees.
Despite official regulations setting the migration cost for Malaysia at Tk79,000, aspiring migrants have to pay Tk4.5 lakh to Tk5 lakh to these recruiting agencies, according to victims and their family members.
While acknowledging the issue of unemployment among migrant workers, recruiting agencies say their role is confined to processing workers based on overseas demands.
If the job letters are fake, then the Malaysian employers or the authorities should be held responsible, they argue.
Mohammad Mizanur Rahman Bhuiyan, the director of Immigration at the BMET, told TBS, “In light of the rising number of job-related complaints, we convened a recent meeting on this issue. The Malaysian government has blacklisted employing companies where Bangladeshis faced job placement challenges. Consequently, we are working to prevent our workers from engaging with these newly blacklisted companies.”
Is there a syndicate?
Through a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Bangladesh, the Malaysian government selected only 100 recruiting agencies out of Bangladesh’s 2,500 for worker recruitment, forming a so-called “syndicate”.
Within this system, even these chosen agencies can partner with up to 10 others, potentially expanding the reach but blurring responsibility.
Malaysia, reopening its labour market in August 2022 after a four-year pause, emerged as the second-largest employer of Bangladeshi workers internationally, just behind Saudi Arabia.
The Southeast Asian nation has recruited a sizable 4.01 lakh workers across diverse sectors like manufacturing, construction, services, plantations, agriculture, mining, and even household services since August 2022.
The construction sector appears to be a hotbed for fraudulent recruitment, with insiders raising numerous red flags.
Recruiting agencies blame authorities
The agencies of the so-called syndicate said agencies merely process the workers and it is the Malaysian employers who are to be blamed for the crisis.
Sadia International, one of the syndicate members, successfully sent over 2,200 workers to Malaysia. However, many of its clients alleged that they found themselves jobless after reaching Malaysia.
Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, the proprietor of Sadia International, acknowledged this issue, saying: “We have sent many construction workers, and a significant number have also ventured into the service sector. However, the concentration in the construction sector is high which has led to increased challenges. Many individuals who have chosen this path are encountering various issues with job security.”
When asked about the percentage of workers encountering unemployment after reaching Malaysia, he said, “It is challenging to provide an exact figure. A considerable number of individuals are facing employment issues, but at the same time, many are successfully securing re-employment.”
Shameem Ahmed, also the former secretary general of the Bangladesh International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), said, “Upon receiving approval from the governments of both nations, our workers travel abroad. The job letters are vetted by embassies. The perplexing question is: why are thousands of individuals unable to secure employment opportunities after going abroad?”
Asked why the Bangladeshi agencies will not be responsible for this, he said, “We are the service provider. We process and send the workers according to the demands of the employers.
“Employers are sending job letters to recruit workers because they have been approved by the Malaysian authorities. If workers do not get jobs now, disciplinary action should be taken against the employers. The victim workers should be compensated by authorities.”
Malaysia sees an excess inflow of foreign workers
Malaysian authorities said they are facing a problem with an excess inflow of foreign workers.
“Relaxing regulations on the hiring of foreign workers and the recalibration exercise led to an excess of over 250,000 foreign workers in the manufacturing and service sectors,” Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution said in last October as per the local media reports.
He said as of 9 October, a total of 667,418 foreign workers had come into Malaysia, compared to the forecast of 518,000 based on the relaxation and recalibration programme.
Regarding the Malaysian minister’s comment, Andy Hall, a Kuala Lumpur-based migrant worker rights specialist told The Business Standard over the phone, “I would say at least one lakh Bangladeshis have become jobless as per the information of the home minister. Because, after reopening the labour market for Bangladeshi workers, around 60% of total recruitment came from the south Asian nation.”
More workers, more money!
Stranded without work for months, hundreds of South Asian migrants including Bangladeshis in Malaysia say they are losing hope after failing to find jobs promised to them by recruitment agents in exchange for thousands of dollars in fees, Reuters reported in May last year.
They say they arrived in the country on a three-month work visa that was meant to be upgraded to a work permit, but never was. Because their legal status is unclear, they are afraid to leave the premises, the workers told Reuters at the facility where they are staying.
“A recruitment fee of up to RM25,000 (Ringgit Malaysia) is the main reason agents are applying to bring in more foreign workers than needed”, National Association of Private Employment Agencies Malaysia (Papsma) secretary-general Sukumaran Nair told Free Malaysia Today published on 26 December.
“These companies which serve as intermediaries are bloodsuckers. Each worker pays RM20,000 to RM25,000 in recruitment fees. Imagine the kind of profit these companies are making,” he added.
“That is why agents from Bangladesh will try to bring in as many workers as they can from there.”
Sukumaran said that there were situations where a company might only need 10 foreign workers, but the agent at the recruitment firm would apply for 100.
6th January 2024: FMT: 171 duped Bangladeshi migrant workers deserve compensation, govt told (includes Andy Hall’s full statement)
By Andy Hall / 06/01/2024 / 9 minutes of reading
A migrant rights activist, Andy Hall, says the company director, manager or officer involved must be charged and blacklisted and duped Bangladeshi migrant workers deserve compensation. The 171 duped Bangladeshi migrant workers were arrested after taking part in a march to file a police report in December.
Original Source: FMT by FMT Reporters – 6th January 2024
PETALING JAYA: A migrant rights activist has urged the government to ensure adequate compensation for 171 duped Bangladeshi migrant workers coming to Malaysia for jobs that did not exist.
Andy Hall said the duped Bangladeshi migrant workers, who were arrested by police in Pengerang, Johor, last month after taking part in a march to file a police report, were deceived into paying high recruitment fees back home for non-existent jobs.
“They should be fully compensated at minimum wage levels for the months spent waiting for a non-existent job promised to them. They should also have all recruitment costs and related fees paid by them in Bangladesh fully returned to them, with interest.
“In addition, these workers should also be fully compensated for their suffering from the destitution they have experienced as a result of their unemployment and isolation, akin to a situation of forced labour,” he said in a statement.
Hall also said the company director, manager or officer involved must be charged and blacklisted by the home and human resources ministries.
“It is insufficient to merely blacklist legal entities or companies,” he said, citing a joint statement by home minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail and human resources minister Steven Sim earlier today.
Joint statement by home minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail and human resources minister Steven Sim – duped Bangladeshi migrant workers
Saifuddin and Sim said their ministries viewed the case in Pengerang seriously and would not compromise with any party involved in foreign worker exploitation. They agreed that the employers must face legal action under several laws, including the law against human trafficking.
The employers would be blacklisted from new foreign worker employment applications, their remaining migrant worker quotas and approval letters would be cancelled, and they would be prevented from renewing work permits for existing foreign workers.
6th January 2024: Andy Hall’s response to Joint Ministerial Statement on Pengerang Protesting Workers (full statement)
The 6th January 2024 Joint Press Statement by the Home and Human Resource Ministers in Malaysia (see above), outlining potentially precedent setting enforcement action to be taken against employers of the courageous Pengerang workers, is most welcome.
The statement demonstrates some initial commitments by the government to strengthen foreign workers’ welfare protections nationwide, enforce the rule of law and crack down on systemic corruption, impunity and criminal syndicates that currently pervade migrant worker management processes across the country.
However, there are omissions in this Ministerial statement and the proposed action plan that remain of concern.
This group of protesting Pengerang foreign workers stood up to actors involved in what is essentially an organised crime syndicate trafficking Bangladeshi workers into Malaysia for forced labour, at great risk to themselves.
These workers certainly should not have been detained for asserting their right to justice and remedy. More importantly however, they are entitled to compensation for serious wrongdoings committed against them in Bangladesh and Malaysia. The joint ministerial statement is silent on any compensation or remedy for these victims.
These Pengerang workers were deceived into paying exorbitant recruitment fees in Bangladesh for non-existent full time jobs in Malaysia, to be paid at minimum wage levels. They should therefore also be fully compensated at minimum wage levels for the months spent waiting for a non existent job that was promised to them. They should in addition have all recruitment costs and related fees paid by them in Bangladesh fully returned to them, with interest.
In addition, these workers should also be fully compensated for their suffering from the destitution that they have experienced as a result of their unemployment and isolation, akin to a situation of forced labour.
The perpetrators of the abuses against these workers certainly should be subject to due process and penalised if found guilty, as the Ministerial statement suggests.
But any government investigation in this case needs to move beyond immediate employers and recruiters to also investigate and take action against the organised crime syndicate trafficking Bangladeshi workers like these into Malaysia for forced labour (Related story – FMT 30th Dec 2023: Migrants being duped into Malaysia because of govt’s failure to curb criminal trafficking syndicates and organised crime network, says activist Andy Hall)
The Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission and all law enforcement agencies involved in corruption, organised crime and money laundering in the country need to also be brought into such an investigation. This would contribute to strengthening the rule of law and cracking down on systemic corruption, impunity and criminal syndicates that pervade migrant worker management processes across the country.
The newly introduced section 90B of the Employment Act 1955, concerning the offence of forced labour, is also relevant to this case but is not mentioned at all in the joint ministerial statement.
This reformed legal provision prescribes a maximum fine of MYR 100,000 or imprisonment of up to 2 years or both for deceiving a worker and preventing them from proceeding beyond the place where their employment activity is done.
Even if workers in this case were not provided with any work at all, they have limited freedom of movement and essentially have been prevented from removing themselves from the control and authority of bogus employers, agents and middle men. Wrongs have been committed by various parties in subjecting the workers to conditions akin to forced labour, which should be prosecuted under section 90B.
Additionally, the Director-General of Labour has the power to summon and inquire into this offence pursuant to section 79 of the employment act and to institute criminal proceedings against offenders. Under section 87, the court more importantly may direct that a fine received under this Act be paid to the complainant as compensation.
Since Malaysia ratified the Forced Labour Protocol in March 2022, provisions in section 90B were designed for precisely the form of exploitation seen in the Pengerang case. The Employment Act procedures are efficient and simple. Yet instead, complex and time consuming processes pursuant to trafficking legislation are frequently pursued, and will be pursued also in this case, according to the ministerial statement.
Usually in such trafficking cases, foreign workers are detained involuntarily in isolated shelters and then deported without remedy or compensation. This is not what most destitute victims of the current organised crimes syndicate have said they want in remedy to their predicament.
Victims in stranded foreign worker cases like the Pengerang case have stated that they need only a decent job and compensation, which can be provided to them through utilising s90B of the Employment Act. These victims have said they do not want to be further detained and/or deported in response to their awful situation. They do not want to be labelled as ‘trafficking victims’ if negative consequences result.
In addition, the enforcement action proposed in the joint ministerial statement is focused on the employer – presumably a company. Both recruiters and hiring employers are jointly or severally responsible for the offences against the workers as the offences could not have occurred without their collusion.
It is also critical that directors, managers and officers of companies involved be jointly or severally charged of related offenses and blacklisted as per section 101B of the Employment Act 1955. It is insufficient to merely blacklist legal entities or companies.
Regarding an effective response to the current crisis of deceived and stranded foreign workers in Malaysia, the Ministers both also need to ensure that the response outlined in the Pengerang case also leads to established operating procedures for future responses by district level enforcers who receive complaints of or detect similar rights violations most frequently on a daily basis.
The Pengerang case is not a unique case. The positive response to this case by the ministers as outlined in their joint statement, subject to the above concerns, needs to be replicated by officers in similar cases currently impacting 100,000s of victims of this organised crime network or syndicate that continues to traffick foreign workers into forced labour in Malaysia.
See also: Related story – FMT 30th Dec 2023: Migrants being duped into Malaysia because of govt’s failure to curb criminal trafficking syndicates and organised crime network, says activist Andy Hall
See also: 6th Jan 2024: FMT: Away from families, in debt, and jobless in a foreign land
See also: 6th Jan 2024: FMT – Saifuddin, Sim to discuss status of freeze on foreign worker recruitment
See also: 6th Jan 2024: New Strait Times – Company that promised 171 Bangladeshi workers non-existent jobs blacklisted
See also: 5th Jan 2024: New Strait Times – MCA: Don’t just fine employers, hold ministry accountable as well for unemployed foreign workers
See also: 29th Dec 2023: Malay Mail – Set up probe on exploitation of migrant workers and new ministry to manage their affairs, Suhakam tells Putrajaya
See also: 27th Dec 2023: New Strait Times – Strict action against employers, agencies neglecting 171 Bangladeshi workers: MEF
See also: 27th Dec 2023: FMT – Bangladeshis duped over jobs are victims of human trafficking, says rights group
See also: 26th Dec 2023: FMT – Azalina wants urgent probe into 171 Bangladeshis duped over jobs
See also: 26th Dec 2023: FMT – High recruitment fees make greedy agents bring in workers, says group
See also: 25th Dec 2023: FMT – Probe recruitment agents, MACC told after arrest of Bangladeshis
See also: 25th Dec 2023: FMT – Human resources ministry comes to the rescue of Bangladeshi workers
See also: 25th Dec 2023: FMT – Cops nab 171 foreigners protesting lack of jobs in Johor
See also: 30th Oct 2023: FMT: Andy Hall refers stranded Bangladeshi workers’ plight in Malaysia to UN Human Rights Council
See also: 19th Oct 2023: Malaysia facing huge excess of 1/4 million migrant laborers
See also: 21st Sep 2023: Malaysian government has 15 source countries for foreign workers – Comments by Andy Hall