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MP SPEAKS Last Thursday, Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid said approximately 1.5 million workers from Bangladesh would be brought to Malaysia in stages, over three years, to meet the demands of employers from various sectors.

Yesterday he indicated that these workers will be brought into the country once the existing undocumented workers are sent back.

The minister estimates that there are about two million undocumented workers in the country at this time.

The minister’s statement is troubling and at the same time alarming for a number of reasons.

First, has the Home Ministry done a labour market needs assessment study to justify the number of workers required in the next years and for the various sector? The study should entail skill needs, requirement and gaps including a projection of employment by industry and sector for the next years.

If such a study exists, it should be made public since the minister’s statement has got strong criticisms from a cross-section of society including labor unions.

In addition, the minister needs to clarify if recruitment will cease from other 13 countries that Malaysia recruits its workers from. If this is not the case, what are numbers that will be recruited from these countries?

Second, government statistics show that the number of documented migrant workers in the country is about 2.3 million; whereas the number of undocumented workers could be as high as four million. The minister’s two million undocumented workers claim is therefore baffling.

Media reports in Bangladesh show that the first group of Bangladeshi workers will arrive in the country sometime this year.

This means that the Home Ministry will began the repatriation of four million undocumented workers in the next months.

The minister has to therefore indicate the repatriation plan, especially when previous attempts have failed.

Third, Bangladesh’s media suggests that these workers will be brought to Malaysia under a new business-to-business (B2B) mechanism through manpower agencies or labor brokers.

The question that arises here is why the government is abandoning the government to government (G2G) process, which is guided by a memorandum of understanding between both countries. And a G2G process will benefit workers, as it is a cheaper way to get to Malaysia and a less debt burden to them.

Encouraging slave labour?

The use of labour broker agencies have led to massive violation of labor and human rights of migrant workers who have been kept in debt bondage for the duration of their stay in the receiving country. Why is the government encouraging slave labor in Malaysia?

Why is Malaysia promoting such exploitative approaches when there is a global call to use G2G approaches and direct hiring by employers?

Bangladesh’s media suggests that labour brokers have been aggressive in pushing for the change in the mode of labor supply to Malaysia. This is because there is millions to be made both in the host and receiving countries.

Fourth, it is clear that the home minister is out of step with national ambitions and targets.

The Eleventh Malaysia Plan stipulates that by 2020, about 1.5 million new jobs will be created with improvements in labour productivity and reduced dependency on low-skilled foreign workers.

How is Zahid’s plan on bringing in 1.5 million workers going to help Malaysia meet its 2020 target?

What is obvious is that the various ministries and governmental agencies are not on the same page. And it is equally obvious that Malaysia’s need to reduce the dependence on migrant workers has not been thought out clearly.

Most importantly, the government has not taken into account criticisms that bringing in a large number of migrant workers has a tendency to dampen wages of Malaysians.

And, one can’t help but ask if the agreement to bring in the 1.5 million workers to Malaysia is more about making money for all parties than addressing local market demands.

CHARLES SANTIAGO is member of Parliament, Klang.

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