Bangladesh: Malaysia has backtracked on its words

Just a day after signing an MoU with Dhaka on allowing 1.5 million Bangladeshis to find work in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur has backtracked on its words and decided to suspend recruitment of all foreign workers, including those from Bangladesh, reported Dhaka Tribune.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced the suspension of recruiting foreign workers and called on employers to recruit locals instead.

Without giving out any details of the plan, Zahid Hamidi, also the Malaysian home minister, said the suspension would be in place while the government reviewed its two-tier levy programme for foreign workers, reports Malaysian media The Star Online.

After a meeting with army personnel at Kem Muara Tuang yesterday, he added that existing illegal workers in Malaysia would be detained and deported.

However, according to Dhaka Tribune, Bangladeshi authorities are yet to receive any official statement from Malaysia in this regard.

Terming the move an eyewash, Begum Shamsun Nahar, the acting secretary of Bangladesh Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The Malaysian government has made the announcement to calm local pressure groups who are opposed to recruiting foreign workers.”

She said she believes that Bangladesh would send workers to Malaysia as per the deal signed between the two countries on Thursday.

‘Not all 1.5m Bangladeshis coming to Malaysia’

Disputing media reports, the Malaysian human resources minister yesterday said Bangladesh has around 1.5 million people registered for future employment in foreign countries, but that is not the number of workers coming to Malaysia.

“The perception that 1.5 million workers will be brought in from Bangladesh to work in Malaysia is not true,” said Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot, who signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) in Dhaka on Thursday.

“The figure is, in fact, the number of Bangladeshis registered with its Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment for the purpose of seeking employment in foreign countries, including Malaysia,” he told a press conference in Putrajaya, according to a report by The Star Online.

Meanwhile, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, Malaysia’s former international trade and industries minister, has questioned the backtracking on the plan to bring in 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers over a three-year period.

“What happened? Was there no study of the proposal or policy before it was announced? Were there no discussions with relevant parties to consider all views? Were all the effects and implications – good and bad – studied, such as the economic, social and security concerns,” Rafidah was quoted by The Star Online as saying.

Rafidah also claimed that the government decision has caused confusion and worries for the private sectors that need foreign workers.

Reactions following the intake freeze

The Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) and Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association expressed concerns following the federal government’s decision to immediately suspend the migration of all foreign workers into Malaysia.

In a statement yesterday, the FMM, which represents the views and interests of over 2,600 manufacturing and manufacturing services companies, said the government should provide full details to employers on the intake freeze, the paper said.

“It is unclear to manufacturers how long the suspension would take effect. Some employers have earlier received approvals to bring in workers and are in different stages of recruitment, including some with workers already on their way to Malaysia,” the statement read.

But Tenaganita, a Malaysian non-profit working for the rights of workers, welcomed the suspension by the government.

Ashikur Rahman, Tenaganita’s volunteer senior research officer, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Tenaganita welcomes the halt and would like the re-hiring process to go smoothly without any unethical and corrupt mean for all undocumented workers.

“We would also like to see an assessment of the current labour market and only then recruit according to the labour market demand. We would want all migrant workers to be safe and have a good experience while they are in Malaysia,” he added.

On the other hand, migration experts in Bangladesh criticised the lack of consideration on Dhaka’s part before signing the MoU with Kuala Lumpur.

Dr CR Abrar, executive director of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), pointed out that Bangladesh had failed to analyse criticism from Malaysian media regarding the deal to bring in manpower.

“Their media continuously focused on these debate going on regarding this manpower hiring from Bangladesh. Then why were we not prepared before signing the MoU?,” he said, adding that the government also failed to learn any lesson from the earlier G2G mechanism that resulted in many skilled Bangladeshi migrants becoming illegal aliens in Malaysia.

“Without making any assessment, signing another deal with the same government was not a good decision. Actually our government always negotiated with them from a weak position,” said Abrar, who is also a professor of international relations at Dhaka University.

Malaysia is a popular destination for expatriate workers, where around 300,000 Bangladeshis work legally, while a further 1 million are estimated to be staying illegally.

According to government figures, expatriate Bangladeshis in Malaysia brought in about $1.4 billion remittance to the country last year.