Malaysia's labour market: Repeated syndicates, repeated closure

Workers will no longer enter the Malaysian labour market from tomorrow. The country's labour market had shut down in 2009, 2016 and 2018 too. Prothom Alo has been running a series of the Malaysian labour market. This is the concluding party.

The names of Malaysian national Amin Nor and Bangladeshi national Ruhul Amin alias Shawpon have cropped up as those controlling the Malaysian labour market

Over the past 15 years, Malaysia's labour market has been shut down three times. Every time the issue has come forward regarding a syndicate to send workers there. Various allegations of irregularities, corruption and bribery have surfaced against these syndicates.

It was in 2009 that the Malaysian labour market first shut down. It was reopened towards the end of 2016. At the time a syndicate of 10 recruiting agencies had been formed in Bangladesh. The Malaysian labour market closed down once again in September 2018 on grounds of corruption and irregularities.

In 2022 Malaysia's labour market opened once again. Yet again a syndicate was formed. In March this year Malaysia stated that they will not take any more workers for the time being. Those who have the approval and visas will have to enter Malaysia by 31 May (today, Friday).

Malaysia is a large labour market for Bangladesh. Over the past one and a half years, after Saudi Arabia, the most workers have gone to Malaysia, over 450,000. It is feared that the closure of the labour market will have a negative impact on Bangladesh's overseas remittance.  

Syndicate 'boss' Amin

Before the Malaysian labour market reopened in 2022, an MoU was signed with Bangladesh. The ministry for expatriate welfare at the time did not place much emphasis on keeping the opportunity to send workers open to all. In fact, they gave Malaysia the responsibility to select agencies for the purpose.

There were no specific criteria regarding the agencies in Bangladesh. Bestinet, the company owning the Foreign Workers Central Management System (FWCMS) software MiGRAMS, used for recruitment of workers in Malaysia, took up this opportunity. The company is owned by Malaysian national of Bangladeshi origin, Aminul Islam Bin Abdul Nor. He is better known as Amin Nor.

There are allegations that, sitting in Malaysia, Amin Nor controls the entire business of sending workers there. Former secretary general of the apex body of Bangladeshi recruiting agencies BAIRA, Ruhul Amin alias Shawpon, is his representative in Bangladesh. The two of them decide on who will be included in the syndicate.

Initially the syndicate sending workers to Malaysia has 25 agencies. In phases the number increased to 100 private agencies, joined by the government agency BOESL. Malaysia does no select recruiting agencies in this manner when taking workers from any other country.

How the syndicate makes money

If the demand papers for any workers is finalised in Malaysia, that these distributed among the approved agencies through the FWCMS software. Various agencies received various demand orders. Workers are to be sent through whichever agency receives the demand order.

The government has fixed a maximum fee of Tk 78,990 to send workers to Malaysia. But a study reveals that a worker spends on average Tk 544,000 to go to Malaysia.

Recruiting agencies not on the list are also sending workers to Malaysia. The owners of three such agencies, speaking to Prothom Alo, said they have long-standing businesses for sending workers to Malaysia. That is why demand orders come from the companies to them. Even though they receive these demands, their names are not on the FWCMS. The demand goes to any agency on that list. Then the agencies outside of the syndicate contact that enlisted agency and have to pay them from Tk 152,000 to Tk 165,000 per worker. In that manner, the agencies in the syndicate earn money without even receiving any demand order or sending any worker.

Several BAIRA members allege that a part of the workers' expenditure goes to Ruhul Amin, another part goes by hundi to Malaysia. The rest goes to the agency whose name is used to send the workers. But in all cases the transactions are in cash, with no receipts.

Regarding these allegations, the former BAIRA secretary general Ruhul Amin told Prothom Alo on Thursday night over mobile phone, these false allegations are being made to sully his reputation. He said no money outside of the Tk 78,990 fee determined by the government has been taken. No money has been sent to Malaysia either. He also said that he had no share in Bestinet.

The government has fixed a maximum fee of Tk 78,990 to send workers to Malaysia. But a study reveals that a worker spends on average Tk 544,000 to go to Malaysia.

Agencies in the syndicate say that the agencies outside of the syndicate are responsible for the workers' extra charges. They enter into an unhealthy competition, but workers' demand notes from Malaysia at exorbitant costs and run a visa trade.

Managing director of the recruiting agency 5M International and member of parliament from Feni-3, Masud Uddin Chowdhury, on Thursday told Prothom Alo, the workers' expenditure could have been kept in control has businessmen not rushed to Malaysia to take up illegal visa trade. He himself did not even buy 100 job demands. It all came through the software automatically. Those who got work, send the workers through 5M. His agency just dealt in the visa processing work. His company took no extra payment. It just took the fee as fixed by the government.

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Written bond to evade liability

Even though they are not sending workers, according to government records the workers are going in the names of agencies in the syndicate. So they should be the ones taking all liability. However, in order to evade liability, they take a written bond from the recruiting agencies actually sending the workers. Prothom Alo collected a number of such written bonds. In these documents, the 'sub-agents' take pledge to take all responsibility including if a worker does not get a job there. But the names of these 'sub-agencies' are nowhere mentioned in the government official documents.

Sarker International as a single agency has sent 7,745 workers. Its proprietor Mohammad Ali told Prothom Alo that many of those who received demands from Malaysia send workers through his agency. But written bond was taken from the agencies for the responsibility of the workers. No extra costs were involved. The fee fixed by the government was taken.

Agencies not in the syndicate, however, said that no agency sends their workers without payment. They have to be paid large sums just to use the names of the enlisted agencies.

BAIRA joint secretary general Fakhrul Islam told Prothom Alo, there were no specific rules or regulations to enlist recruiting agencies in the syndicate. That is why some agencies with no experience at all enlist their names in collusion with the main 'bosses'. Then they just sit back and make money. Agencies in the syndicate charge Tk 152,000 per worker.

Workers cheated

Nayem Uddin of Narsingdi went to Malaysia in November last year by means of a middle-man. He took a loan on interest for the purpose, spending Tk 520,000 to get a job in a tiles factory there. But when he arrived there he was given a job as a construction worker in a certain company. The company closed down work after 15 days and he was kept for another two and a half months in an office. Then suddenly he was sent back home. He told Prothom Alo, he is unable to repay the installments on the loan and is in great difficulty.

The ministry for expatriate welfare and overseas employment apparently is not running any investigations into the various allegations involving sending workers to Malaysia. However, the ministry wants to discuss these allegations at the joint technical meeting between the two countries. A letter has been sent to Malaysia asking for a meeting in this regard. No date for the meeting has been finalised as yet.

If Malaysia refused to take workers other than through the syndicate, then there was no need to send them at all
Tasneem Siddiqui, founder chair, RMMRU

Scope to send workers free hampered

The government recruiting agency BOESL received the demand for sending over 10,000 workers to Malaysia. But till 24 April, only 1,467 received clearance.

Two BOESL officials told Prothom Alo, private agencies sent around 400,000 to 500,000 workers. Workers went through BOESL for free, paid by the recruiters. That is why all sorts of obstacles arose to hamper the process. The demand notes went to other agencies and it took time to get these back. Having to deal with all these hassles, it wasn't possible to send so many workers.

No punitive action

Before the Malaysia syndicate was created in 2022, the general recruiting agencies launched a protest. BAIRA member Mustafa Mahmud made several complaints in the country and in Malaysia in order to thwart the syndicate being formed. He has been running his business with Malaysia for long. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said that a few agencies together submitted complaints in 2017 to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in the country and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). As the accused were from the private sector, ACC did not proceed with the matter. And the syndicate  boss Amin Nor used his clout to halt the Malaysian investigations.

There is criticism in Malaysia too regarding such syndicates. Speaking to journalists at an event on Wednesday, Malaysia's high commissioner in Bangladesh, Haznah Mohammed Hashim, said, and "We have syndicates here that are out of the control of both Bangladesh and Malaysia's governments."

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Tasneem Siddiqui, founder chair of the non-government research institution on migration RMMRU, told Prothom Alo, if Malaysia refused to take workers other than through the syndicate, then there was no need to send them at all.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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