18th February 2024: Bangladeshis pay much higher than peers (US$4500+) to reach Malaysia job market – syndicates, impunity and systemic forced labour

Bangladeshis pay much higher than peers (US$4500+) to reach Malaysia job market - syndicates, impunity and systemic forced labour

18th February 2024 Business Standard: Bangladeshis pay much higher than peers (US$4500+) to reach Malaysia job market – syndicates, impunity and systemic forced labour

Bangladeshi workers pay the higher migration costs to secure jobs in Malaysia compared to their competitors from countries like Nepal, Indonesia, the Philippines and India due to the government’s “poor migration diplomacy”, intermediation of middlemen and syndication of recruiting agencies resulting in impunity and systemic forced labour.

Original Article: The Business Standard by Kamran Siddiqui – 17th February 2024

Last year, BOESL received demands from Malaysian for at least 10,000 workers with zero migration cost but it was only able to send around 1,000 workers.

For instance, Malaysia-bound Bangladeshi workers in manufacturing and construction currently have to pay from $4,000 to $4,500, whereas Indonesian workers in the same sectors pay between $340 and $742.

Similarly, Filipino domestic workers pay around $311, while Nepalese workers across all sectors pay between $500 and $3,000 and Indian workers pay between $1,000 and $3,000 to get employed in the south-east Asian country, according to industry insiders.

Moreover, while an Indonesian worker pays 6-10 times less than a Bangladeshi worker, they can also pay this cost in installments over a period of 7-8 months after commencing their employment.

While several major labour-sourcing countries for Malaysia have adopted a zero migration cost policy for key sectors, Bangladesh has even failed to enforce the government-fixed rates.

The actual migration cost for Malaysia-bound Bangladeshis ranges from Tk4.50 lakh to Tk5 lakh, significantly higher than the Tk79,000 set by the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment.

There are allegations that a corrupt syndicate of recruiters acted against the zero migration cost policy of the government in sending workers to Malaysia through the government agency Bangladesh Overseas Employment and Services Limited (BOESL).

Last year, BOESL received demands for at least 10,000 workers from Malaysian employers who were willing to cover all migration expenses. However, the government agency was only able to send around 1,000 workers.

BOESL officials, wishing to remain anonymous, told TBS that a syndicate of private agencies influenced Malaysian employers to suspend recruitment under the zero cost policy.

However, Mallick Anwar Hossain, managing director of BOESL, said, “Malaysian companies that previously sought recruitment have suspended their orders under the policy. If they resume the process, we will send workers.”

Through a memorandum of understanding (MoU), the Malaysian government selected only 100 out of 2,500 Bangladeshi recruiting agencies for worker recruitment, thereby facilitating the formation of the so-called “syndicate”.

Migration experts say a corrupt syndicate had lobbied in both Bangladesh and Malaysia to sign the MoU, aiming to profit from the high migration costs.

Additionally, Bangladesh’s poor migration diplomacy has weakened its position as a migrant-origin country, they say.

“There appears to be a corrupt syndicate at play,” said Professor Syeda Rozana Rashid of international relations department at Dhaka University.

She added, “Our government consistently emphasises safe, orderly, and ethical migration. However, the protection of workers’ rights and prevention of exploitation are not given the priority they deserve.”

Why this huge surge in migration cost?

Local recruiters and migration experts blamed the middlemen and syndication of agencies for the skyrocketing migration costs in Bangladesh and the resulting joblessness of workers in destination countries.

However, the agencies permitted to send workers to Malaysia blamed the employers and Malaysian authorities for displacing thousands of workers’ jobs.

Recruiters point out that none of the source countries, except Bangladesh, permitted a limited number of agencies to send workers, which is a major reason for the lack of stability in the sector.

Malaysia currently accepts foreign workers from 15 source countries: Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, India, and Indonesia.

Workers from Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Nepal account for over 70% of Malaysia’s migrant labour, with the rest coming from other countries.

Filius Yandono, secretary general of the Association of Indonesian Manpower Placement Companies, told TBS over the phone on 3 February, “Indonesia, for domestic workers going to Malaysia, renewed the MoU in April 2022, where all recruitment costs are covered by the employer. Although the MoU for formal workers has not yet been renewed, according to the Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers Law of 2017, the recruitment costs must be borne by the employer. However, zero-cost migration has been fully implemented in the plantation and palm oil harvesting sector.”

He mentioned that all of the more than 250 registered recruiting agencies in Indonesia are allowed to send workers.

Rajendra Bhandari, president of Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies, told TBS over phone on 3 February, “All of 931 registered Nepali agencies are allowed to send workers to Malaysia as per the bilateral agreement. And workers will migrate under an employers’ pay model where all costs are borne by the employers.”

The lion’s share of migration costs for Bangladeshi workers is claimed by middlemen, agents in both countries, and employers at the destination.
Meanwhile, since last year, thousands of migrants, mostly from Bangladesh and Nepal, have been left in limbo after arriving in Malaysia, where they were informed that jobs promised to them in exchange for steep recruitment fees were no longer available, reports Reuters.

Sadia International, one of the 100 selected agencies for recruiting Malaysia-bound workers, successfully sent over 2,300 workers to Malaysia, some of whom also found themselves jobless upon reaching their destination.

Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury, proprietor of Sadia International, told TBS, “If a database of prospective migrants were created instead of a broker-based system by allowing all agencies to send workers, the migration cost would be much lower. Agencies could then hire directly from the database.”

However, he blamed Malaysian employers for the joblessness of workers at the destination.

Malaysia to review bilateral labour deals

The Malaysian authorities have announced a review of bilateral labour migration agreements with all source countries, including Bangladesh, amid significant concerns about violations of workers’ rights.

Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, home minister of Malaysia, stated on 16 January that they would reassess the agreements, considering various elements such as fees, costs, contract conditions, and health, to address “exploitative practices and manpower imbalances” that have left thousands of migrant workers jobless.

However, the most pressing question remains: will Malaysia-bound workers secure their promised jobs without having to pay exorbitant migration costs?

Additionally, will the issue of selecting the number of local recruiting agencies be handed over to Bangladesh after revisiting the agreement between Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur signed in December 2021?

Ali Haidar Chowdhury, secretary general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), told TBS, “When Malaysian home minister visited Dhaka in February last year, he made the same comment that they would review the agreement. But we did not see any progress in this regard last year.”

“In the meantime, more than four lakh Bangladeshis have already gone to the country under the supervision of Malaysian authorities. Now, allegations have been raised that many of them did not get jobs. So, it is the responsibility of Malaysian authorities to ensure the jobs of all Bangladeshis as per the MoU,” he added.

Additional Reading: 

See also: Malay Mail 8th Feb 2024 – Activists: Duped Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia sought RM2m in unpaid wages, but only got half (first reported compensation settlement for Bangladesh Malaysia organised crime syndicate victims being trafficked for 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: Malay Mail 8th Feb 2024: HR Ministry hails mediation outcome despite claims duped Bangladeshi workers were short-changed

See also: 8th February 2024: FMT – Bangladeshi workers win RM1mil in unpaid wages

See also: 7th Feb 2024: Bangla Tribune – Job trap in Malaysia, 733 Bangladeshis in salary uncertainty

See also: 6th February2024: Benar News – Malaysian Labor Court orders employers to pay Bangladeshi workers RM1 million in unpaid wages – first reported compensation settlement for Bangladesh Malaysia organised crime syndicate victims being trafficked for forced labour in Malaysia

See also: 16th January 2024: FMT – 751 duped Bangladeshi migrant workers in Pengerang case file RM2 million claim for unpaid wages resulting from situation akin to forced labour, stranded and destitute on arrival in Malaysia (includes comments by Andy Hall)

See also: 6th Jan 2024: FMT: Away from families, in debt, and jobless in a foreign land

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: 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: 30th Dec 2023: New Strait Times – Recruitment agencies accused of deception as Bangladeshi victims speak out on exploitation and fear

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: 28th Dec 2023: New Strait Times – ‘Company involved in 171 Bangladeshi migrant worker scandal not licensed to recruit’

See also: 28th Dec 2023: FMT – Malaysia has entered ‘slave labour’ territory, says ex-MP – Charles Santiago calls for specific set-ups to manage migrant workers 

See also: 27th Dec 2023: New Strait Times – MTUC demand govt, MACC probe into corrupt recruitment practices of foreign workers

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: 25th Dec 2023: The Star – Foreigners march to police station to complain about agent, get hauled up by Immigration Dept instead

See also: 5th Nov 2023: Malaysian HR Minister pledges nationwide operations concerning plight of Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia following Andy Hall’s complaint letter to the OHCHR

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

See also: 20th Sep 2023: Rate of abused Bangladeshi workers’ entry into Malaysia worrying, says migrant rights activist Andy Hall

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