17,000 fail to reach Malaysia despite getting final clearance

Thousands of people throng Dhaka's Hazrat Shah Jalal Airport to go to Malaysia even without ticketsSuvra Kanti Das

A total of 16,970 workers missed the 31 May deadline to go to Malaysia as they could not either collect air tickets or get the assurance to be received at the airport by their employers.

Before this, the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment requested the Malaysian government to extend the deadline for a week, but the latter did not respond. State minister for expatriates' welfare and overseas employment Shofiqur Rahman Choudhury said on Sunday the government has been working on it and the issue will be discussed with the Malaysian ambassador in Dhaka on Wednesday.

Malaysia closed its labour market for Bangladesh on 1 June. Recruiting agencies, however, took clearance of 893,642 workers from the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), and 476,642 of them made it to the Southeast Asian nation, while the remaining ones were left behind.

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Recently, allegations surfaced of syndicates being formed to carry out huge irregularities in doing business of billions of taka to send manpower to Malaysia. The names of four members of parliament came up in the allegations. Asked about the action against them, state minister of expatriates' welfare and overseas employment Shofiqur Rahman Choudhury said, “The probe committee will investigate everything. We know no lawmakers, we know recruiting agencies. If responsible, action would be taken.”

Shofiqur Rahman Choudhury made the remarks while replying to queries from journalists at a press conference on the state of the Malaysian labour market at the Ministry Of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment in New Eskaton, Dhaka.

He said, “We do not believe in syndicates. The country that will take workers, wants to recruit manpower through the recruiting agencies of their likings, that is their matter, but the government wants all workers to go aboard.” The state minister hoped that Malaysia would reopen its labour market.

Probe committee

The Ministry Of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment formed a six-member committee headed by additional secretary (employment) Noor Md Mahbubul Haq to find the corruption and irregularities in workers’ recruitment in the Malaysian labour market and to punish the people responsible. The committee has been asked to report in seven working days. The committee will also work on compensating the affected workers. Anyone can also complain to the probe body. If a worker needs to pay more than 78,990 taka they can inform the committee. The probe body will also make recommendations on tackling such a situation in future.

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At the press conference, Md Ruhul Amin, secretary to the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, said no recruiting agency blacklisted by Malaysia received permission to send workers. Besides, workers who get a clearance, but could not go to Malaysia will receive their money back, and the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) take the responsibility. If the workers’ money is not returned, legal action would be taken, he added.

Fear looms large over return of syndicate

Malaysia reopened its labour market for Bangladesh in 2022 after a closure of four years. A group then formed a syndicate with 100 agencies. As a result, workers needed to pay on average over 550,000 taka despite the total cost were set at 78,990 taka. Many workers did not even get jobs after arriving there. As pressure mounted on Malaysia from UN and other international agencies, the country halted workers’ recruitment on the pretext of revamping the foreign worker recruitment process. However, fear looms large over the return of the syndicate.

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Malaysia takes workers from 14 countries including Bangladesh. All agencies of those countries expect Bangladesh can send workers whereas the Southeast Asian nation allows several agencies in Bangladesh to send workers and does not maintain any standard to finalise an agency either. Bestinet, which developed the Foreign Workers Centralized Management System (FWCMS also known as MiGRAMS), took advantage of the situation. Bestinet is founded by Bangladeshi-origin Malaysian citizen Aminul Islam Bin Abdur Nur, known as Amin Nur. He controls the entire manpower recruitment business from Malaysia.

People concerned said the Malaysian government’s contract with Bestinet expired on 31 May and the country stopped recruiting workers to avoid renewing agreement with this controversial company, but now the contract is likely to get renewed for three more years, and if it happens manpower recruitment syndicate may return again once the labour market reopens.