14th March 2024: The Star – Opinion: When work in Malaysia is a con – the criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshis for forced labour in Malaysia

When work in Malaysia is a con - the criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshis for forced labour in Malaysia

14th March 2024: The Star -Opinion: When work in Malaysia is a con – the criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshis for forced labour in Malaysia

It’s horrifying the amount of injustice I see in Malaysia. I often read and hear about the rich and powerful evading the rule of law while vulnerable groups like the Orang Asli are denied basic justice and land rights. The most powerless of people get cheated frequently with little recourse, even thrown into jail despite committing no crime. Thousands of migrant workers here are living this travesty of justice under a criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshis for forced labour.

Original Source: The Star by Mangai Balasegaram – 14th March 2024

The scenario typically unfolds like this. A young man in Bangladesh is lured by promises of high wages in Malaysia by an agent. To pay the RM20,000 agency fee, he is pushed into debt. When he gets to Malaysia, there is no job, no money, and substandard shelter and food (if any). Stranded and unable to pay mounting debts, or to return home as his passport has been taken, he flees to seek justice – only to land in jail for being undocumented.

Thousands face this situation, and reportedly 1,000 Bangladeshis languish in prison. This is unconscionable. Many were “scammed, exploited, and extorted” when recruited to come to Malaysia, said Kepong MP Lim Lip Eng in a recent statement. “Many of them even sold their property to pay their way here. But they ended up being placed behind bars for crimes they did not commit.”

Among the many duped Bangladeshis was Shofiqul Islam. According to the Selangor Anti-Human Trafficking Council, the 33-year-old died after six months of living in poor conditions at a workers’ hostel in Sepang, Selangor, while trying to return home.

One high profile case involved 751 Bangladeshi workers in Pengerang, Johor, held with little food and water. When 171 of them walked 10km to a police station to report their plight, they were arrested, drawing public criticism (“Foreigners march to police station to complain about agent, get hauled up by Immigration Dept instead”, The Star, Dec 25, 2023).

Last month, in a significant step forward, an industrial court ordered the recruitment company to pay RM1mil in backdated wages to those workers, although this was below half that demanded, and the amount excluded compensation. Still, this was better than the ruling finding 200 jobless workers were not being cheated despite evidence of company documents showing fake jobs.

Human rights groups and workers’ unions say such recruitment fraud cases amount to human trafficking, for which Malaysia could face international trade sanctions.

The mistreatment itself is terrible. Last month, the authorities freed over 90 Bangladeshi workers crammed into a flat above a shoplot in Cheras, Selangor, after a labour rights activist highlighted their plight. The workers said they were denied food for four days and had to share one toilet.

The Home Affairs and Human Resources ministers have pledged to reform the foreign worker intake system and act against errant recruitment syndicates. Bangladesh is also working to ensure informal subagents can no longer evade legal scrutiny, an MP said.

The government must take strong action against guilty agents, employers, and officials. It was reported that the employer involved in the Pengarang case would be summoned by the Human Resources Ministry – but what has happened since? Has anyone even been charged?

Suhakam (the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) said the employer and agents could be prosecuted as traffickers. And according to activists, the workers have yet to be paid as the court ordered, and most still have no jobs. Shouldn’t scammed workers be allowed to look for other jobs?

The Plantation and Commodities Minister has proposed that companies face a strict penalty, with fines up to RM30,000, for every foreign worker not employed after a month in Malaysia. Despite the current oversupply of workers (partly due to opaque recruiting processes), sectors such as the plantation industry have difficulties recruiting workers.

How did we end up with this unjust system that benefits recruiters and exploits workers, teeming with scams, fake documents, and corruption?

A 2019 report by an independent committee, previously confidential, blamed “corrupt practices”, the “most absurd” being contracts given to inexperienced firms with connections to politicians or government officials.

Human rights lawyer Charles Hector points to the “Contractor for Labour” (CFL) scheme, in which the government issues permits to contractors to recruit migrant workers. “They must get rid of it, because these contractors do not have work requiring workers,” Hector says. The contractors are actually “false” employers with no jobs; they just supply workers to “real” employers needing workers.

So, basically, rent-seeking.

The workers remain employees of the CFL, not their “real” workplace employer, who thus evades labour laws. The CFLs profit with every hour their recruits work, so workers are often made to work long hours. Hector says only employers with jobs really requiring migrant workers (and who cannot get locals) should get permits.

He also says anti-trafficking laws should be amended to protect victims. Currently, human trafficking victims can stay in the country only until investigations are completed. They are then sent back to their country of origin. As victims are crucial witnesses, their absence when the case finally makes it to court means traffickers will likely get off free or never even be charged. Thus, victims must be allowed to stay to fight their case and win compensation. Justice must be served.

Injustice breeds further injustice. That’s how we’ve ended up with this messy, mismanaged, unjust system that is rotten to the core. We need to overhaul it so foreign workers come here to fill employment gaps and not the pockets of greedy sharks.

Poverty alleviation NGO Hope Selangor is delivering food to Bangladeshi work scam victims; if you would like to help, email hopeselangor@gmail.com or call 012-907 6266.

Background Reading:

New Age 16th Mar 2024: Bangladeshi government must mend issues to keep Malaysia job market open

FMT 13th March 2024: Bangladeshi migrants file police reports after falling victim to job scam/criminal syndicate trafficking workers from Bangladesh for forced labour in Malaysia

SCMP 12th Mar 2024: Malaysia to slash migrant workforce amid intolerance, job scam crisis involving Bangladeshi labourers

FMT 11th Mar 2024: Duped migrant jobseekers, victims of alleged criminal syndicate trafficking Bangaldeshi workers to Malaysia for forced labour, face mental health issues, says Malaysian ex-MP

Daily Star Editorial 10th March 2024: Migrating to a life of unemployment

Daily Star 10th Mar 2024: Distressed in Malaysia – Thousands of Bangladeshi migrants jobless, unpaid or underpaid 

Malay Mail 9th Mar 2024: Activists warn rushed 31st Mar visa deadline in Malaysia could force firms to source foreign workers unethically (includes my commentary on the abrupt policy change)

9th Mar 2024 The Star: No extension of May 31 foreign worker deadline

NST 9th Mar 2024: Keep recruitment agencies in a list rather than shutting them down, govt told   

See also NST 9th Mar 2024: Sourcing migrant workers takes time, ‘not like buying cattle’, employer groups tell govt

NST 8th Mar 2024: Eliminate middlemen from migrant worker recruitment process, govt told

Star 8th Mar 2024: May 31 deadline for foreign workers recruitment under recalibration programme remains, says Saifuddin

Malay Mail 8th Mar 2024: Saifuddin Nasution: No more agents for Bangladeshi worker recruitment

6th March 2024: Malaysian government halts foreign worker entry into the country from 31st May 2024 (final calling visa/VDN approval issuance deadline 31st March 2024) as migrant worker management crisis worsens and victims of gross exploitation, unemployment and destitution rise significantly

6th March 2024: Business Times –Sudden change in foreign worker policy by Malaysian government leaves industry in limbo

6th Mar 2024 Edge: Foreign worker intake deadline changes will leave manufacturers in the lurch, says FMM

6th Mar 2024 FMT: Industry players shocked by foreign worker policy change, says FMM

5th March 2024: NCCIM urges govt to review unused foreign worker quota deadline

4th March 2024 URGENT call for donations/support: joining forces with HOPE SELANGOR to fill gap in providing humanitarian aid and assistance to victims of criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshi workers into forced labour in Malaysia

3rd March 2024: Concern on repatriation of potential trafficking and forced labour/abuse victims under Malaysian Migrant Worker Repatriation Programme Commencing 1st March 2024 (Statement by Andy Hall, Independent Migrant Worker Rights Specialist)

3rd March 2024: Ensure ‘crooks’ do not gain from repatriation programme, says activist

2nd March 2024 The Star: A chance for illegals to go home

2nd March 2024 The Star: Sarawak immigration extends RTK2.0 until June

EDGE 1st Mar 2024: Home Ministry moves to free up foreign workers quota, unused allocations to be cancelled from June 1

1st March 2024 FMT: 600,000 foreign workers urged to take easy exit home

1st March 2024 The Star: Use repatriation programme to return home, 600,000 illegals told

1st March 2024 MalayMail: Saifuddin reminds employers to get their foreign worker affairs in order before March 31

28th February 2024 The Star: New programme lets migrants off the hook without being prosecuted

25th February 2024 The Star: Businesses want foreign worker hiring freeze lifted

31st January 2024 NST: Govt to implement Migrant Repatriation Programme starting March

31st January 2024 The Edge: Cabinet agrees to extend freeze on hiring of foreign workers, says home minister 

31st January 2024 FMT: Migrant repatriation programme set for March 1

31st January 2024 The Star: Migration Repatriation Programme to commence on March 1, says Home Ministry

1st March 2024: Duped Bangladeshi worker (another victim of alleged criminal syndicate trafficking Bangladeshi workers for forced labour in Malaysia) dies while trying to go home

RTV Online 1st Mar 2024: Expatriates die without getting work in Malaysia (google translate)

27th February 2024: SCMP – Malaysian firm probed for human trafficking after 93 Bangladeshi workers found abandoned

26th February 2024: Statement by Independent Migrant Worker Rights Specialist Andy Hall on Joint KDN, KSM and MAPO Operation to Rescue More Destitute and Stranded Victims of the Alleged Criminal Syndicate Trafficking Workers from Bangladesh for Forced Labour in Malaysia (includes updated stories on the ‘Cheras’ case)

18th Februrary2024: Bangladeshis pay much higher than peers (US$4500++) to reach Malaysia job market – syndicates, impunity and systemic forced labour

8th February 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)

6th February 2024: 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

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)

6th January 2024: 171 duped migrant workers deserve compensation, govt told (includes my full statement)

5th January 2024: New Strait Times – MCA: Don’t just fine employers, hold ministry accountable as well for unemployed foreign workers

30th December 2023: Migrants being duped into Malaysia because of govt’s failure to curb criminal trafficking syndicates and organised crime network, says activist Andy Hall

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

29th December 2023: Malay Mail – Set up probe on exploitation of migrant workers and new ministry to manage their affairs, Suhakam tells Putrajaya

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

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

26th December 2023: FMT – High recruitment fees make greedy agents bring in workers, says group

25th December 2023: FMT – Probe recruitment agents, MACC told after arrest of Bangladeshis

22nd November 2023: MALAYSIAKINI – Full probe of migrant worker syndicate, Malaysian HR Minister Sivakumar says

9th November 2023: Malaysia – The State of the Nation: Flaws of foreign worker system laid bare in declassified report

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

30th October 2023: FMT: Andy Hall refers stranded Bangladeshi workers’ plight in Malaysia to UN Human Rights Council

23rd October 2023: RESPONSE FROM THE MINISTRY OF HUMAN RESOURCES IN REGARDS TO AN ARTICLE BY MR. ANDY HALL/HR Minister – strict actions against employers who fail to comply with Malaysia’s labour and immigration laws

20th October 2023 Malaysiakini: Long-awaited foreign worker management report declassified in Malaysia (my comments added)

19th October 2023: Malaysia facing huge excess of 1/4 million migrant laborers

21st September 2023: Malaysian government has 15 source countries for foreign workers – Comments by Andy Hall

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

12th July 2023: excellent final offering from a 4 part account of atypical modern-day slavery, forced labour and abuse perpetrated against a group of migrant workers from Bangladesh in Malaysia, written concisely and passionately by former MP from Malaysia Charles Santiago

10th July 2023 – Migrants in Malaysia: Hundreds left stranded in recruitment scam

11th April 2023: In Malaysia, migrants say they are in limbo after promised jobs fall through

25th April 2023 Sarawak Post: Malaysia And Modern Slavery – ‘PM Must Take Control’

23rd April 2023: REUTERS: Malaysia probes cases of migrant workers left jobless, without passports (with background summary and articles included in my blog post)

17th April 2023 Daily Star: Approval For Labour Recruitment – Malaysia’s transparency questioned by Bangladesh

13th April 2023: Stranded Bangladeshis endure ‘hell’ in Malaysia – The group of 35 now wants to go home after being left without jobs for months

11th Mar 2023 MALAYSIAKINI: Malaysian HR Minister Sivakumar – Zero checks for migrant quota approvals only until March 2023

13th Feb 2023: My Perspective published by FMT – ‘Time to address corruption in Malaysia’s migrant worker management’

10th Jan 2023: ‘Bangladeshi recruitment cartels’ grip must end’ – Govt now acting on billion-ringgit ‘human trafficking syndicates’

1st Oct 2022 Malay Mail: PM Anwar says Putrajaya to Ease Rules on Hiring Migrant Workers

7th July 2022 The Vibes: How Bestinet courted controversy over migrant worker recruitment – MACC’s raid on IT company once again casts spotlight on alleged hiring monopoly

June 2022 The Star: Human Traffickers made RM2 billion through syndicate smuggling in over 100,000 workers from Bangladesh

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