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M'sia, Bangladesh must strictly regulate worker recruitment process

LETTER | As Malaysia will be hosting a joint working group meeting in Kuala Lumpur on May 30-31 to work out the new recruitment plan for Bangladeshi migrant workers who come to Malaysia to work, we hope that an accountable and transparent recruitment plan is established at this joint meeting in order to provide adequate protection for migrant workers. 

The fact that civil society is not consulted in this process raises too many questions. As Malaysia and Bangladesh are currently in negotiations for recruitment, it is important we analyse the root causes of the abuses caused by non-transparent dubious recruitment practices seen in the past.

Caram Asia and its members Tenaganita and the North South Initiative, migrant rights NGOS who work closely with migrant workers in Malaysia, are concerned with the continuous ill-treatment if migrants workers and their rights particularly by agents and employers in Malaysia. Even workers who come with proper documentation are also subjected to various forms of violations.

The government needs to be transparent about the new proposals on recruitment. Malaysia must adopt governance with integrity especially in the recruitment of migrant workers. The system of recruiting foreign workers through labour agents should be abolished and recruitment should be done via a government mechanism which requires government entities in both countries to manage the selection and placement of workers. This could highly lessen the probability of migrant workers accepting deceptive terms of employment and also reduce the abuses. 

It is very clear that the labour recruiters in both countries of origin and destination have taken advantage of people desperately seeking employment opportunities by imposing exorbitant recruitment fees. We need to identify and eradicate these irresponsible and unscrupulous syndicate or individuals with intentions to cheat the migrant workers and they should be prosecuted. We should ensure that past mistakes on the recruitment of migrant workers are not repeated as it will impact millions of Bangladeshi migrant workers.

Caram Asia, Tenaganita and the North South Initiative have formulated the following recommendations to the government of Malaysia and Bangladesh to regulate the recruitment process and strongly urge both the governments of origin and destination countries to urgently put in place a new recruitment plan which will provide migrants with holistic rights protection.

Our recommendations:

  • To have consultations with community groups and grassroots organisations leading up to the plan of action.

  •  To eliminate middlemen and agents through labour suppliers and facilitate the hiring process under the government as the primary means by which workers are recruited into Malaysia in a manner that is transparent and accountable as well as evidence and rights-based.

  • A bilateral agreement between the two countries instead of an MOU and the agreement's preparation done with consultations with CSOs and other stakeholders of both countries.

  • Strengthen labour inspection services to monitor working conditions, ensure compliance with employment contracts and detect incidences of forced labour practices. These should apply to all migrant workers regardless of immigration status.

  • Establish a multi-stakeholder inclusive system to allow the identified cheated victims especially those already in the country but became undocumented for no fault of their own, the opportunity to enter the labour force through a transparent regularisation system at low cost with placement into appropriate jobs with the workers' consent;

  • Enact a comprehensive policy for migration, placement and employment of migrant workers in Malaysia (and other destination countries), so that labour trafficking and modern-day slavery can be curbed immediately with strict enforcement to crack down on racketeers/errant employers who are to be brought to justice;

  • The government of Bangladesh should take a holistic view of all Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia, ensuring their protection regardless of their legal status. Granting their fellow citizens identification papers and quick verification processes would surely help with the reduction of undocumented workers in the country, based on humanitarian and human rights principles.

  • Global industries are following the principles of zero migration cost. Bangladesh and Malaysia must follow it for the sake of labour rights and good business.

  • The undocumented migrants should be regularised and absorbed into the labour market. Only then should the government think of fresh recruitments.

  • Governments must recognise migrant’s enormous contributions to the development of their countries and ensure that human rights are respected for all peoples at all times.

The above is issued by the Caram Asia secretariat, Tenaganita and the North South Initiative. Caram Asia (Coordination of Action Research on Aids and Mobility) is a regional network of 42 organisations with UN Special Consultative status.

The views expressed here are those of the authors/contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.