Malaysia's U-turn on its committed recruitment of a huge pool of Bangladeshi workers is certainly an embarrassing issue for both countries. Sadly, for Bangladesh, it is more than that since its lofty hopes were deflated when Malaysia reversed its policy a day after it thrashed out a deal to hire 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers. It is not known what are the liabilities incurred if one of the signatories breaches the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between Bangladesh and Malaysia, but it stirs doubt to anyone to smell a rat.
Malaysia has inked the deal to recruit Bangladeshis through Government-to-Government Plus (G2G Plus) agreement that means the involvement of a third party. And these third party service providers have probably lobbied and influenced Malaysian government to drop a bombshell by announcing plans for huge recruitments to serve their vested interests. These middlemen have long been blamed for human trafficking and other malpractices in the recruitment process of workers from Bangladesh. Now the question arises how Malaysian government has made such missteps apparently swayed by the 'third party.'
Acutely aware of these 'third' parties, Bangladesh government has long been trying to ward them off in the interest of the intended overseas jobseekers who are allegedly charged with extortionate rate of processing fees by the middlemen which sometimes cost them more than twenty times what is actually required or fixed by the government.
For instance, the ex-Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Engineer Khandker Mosharraf Hossain during his last visit to Saudi Arabia told this writer that the government did wholeheartedly want to do away with the murky third party engagement and instead tried to adopt G2G system which would facilitate Bangladeshis to go to any Middle Eastern country at penny ante expenses of around Tk 20,000. He was not able to keep his promise to extricate third party involvement in the recruitment process. In reality, a Bangladeshi has to spend between Tk 4-5 lakh to get a job in some Gulf countries.
Bangladesh has attempted to rid its citizens of middlemen's hassle in the export of human cargoes, but to no avail until now while people from many other countries notably from Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Nepal get a job overseas at little expenses. According to the latest MoU signed with Malaysia, the cost of sending a Bangladeshi worker was pledged between Tk 34,000 and Tk 37,000, and these expenses would be borne by employers. It was apparently a hollow promise in disguise to lure workers into the traps.
It is inconceivable to think that a country like Malaysia which is considered a role model for other emerging economies has sealed a deal to provide employments to one and a half million foreign workers without analyzing the whole spectrum of its capability of absorbing such an enormous strength of armies of people. It is quite unfathomable how a sensible country has tried to bite off more than it can chew in the recruitments of its overseas workers.
Judged by the current situation, Malaysia is not in a position to hire such a big number of foreign workers in the wake of downward trend in its economy with nearly half a million of its own citizens being unemployed. On top of this, there are several million stateless and migrated people who have taken refuge in Malaysia. Bangladesh has, too, over two hundred thousand workers who have somehow become illegals and been facing deportation by the Malaysian government.
Bangladesh government should first concentrate on these undocumented Bangladeshis in Malaysia rather than trying to send more workers which may complicate the situation further. According to the latest statistics from the Bureau of Manpower Employment & Training (BMET), in January 2016, Bangladesh sent over 12,000 workers to Malaysia and this number was significant compared to a mere volume of 30,400 who were deployed there during the whole year of 2015. At present, over 0.56 million Bangladeshis live and work in Malaysia and their combined remittances sent to Bangladesh amounted to $1.4 billion last year.
Malaysia is an important destination for Bangladeshis and it will stay the same since Malaysia increasingly needs workers for 3D jobs (dirty, difficult and dangerous) and these workers are readily and easily available from Bangladesh at lower expenses than from other source countries from where Malaysia usually hires its workers.
Since Bangladeshis do these odd jobs in Malaysia particularly in rubber plantations and in cleaning and maintenance sectors, Malaysia's apparent non-compliance with the recent MoU will not dissuade the country from hiring Bangladeshi workers in the future. Even its private sector companies will remain keen to recruit Bangladeshis because of their low wages.
On the other hand, the MoU seems still valid and effective as neither side has officially announced its withdrawal from it. Malaysia's decision gives an impression that it is probably taking a pause in hiring foreign workers, not only from Bangladesh, but also from other source countries because of its internal mounting pressure of unemployment of its own citizens and the presence of a huge number of migrated people.
Since there is and there will be constant demand for Bangladeshi workers for 3D jobs in Malaysia, Bangladesh does not need to be subservient and give in to unjustified demands or conditions set by its counterpart in negotiating wages for its workers. It is because Bangladeshis are only paid in return of their hard and odd work which is generally pooh-poohed by people from other countries.
Bangladesh has enormous potential to export its human resources in bulk in many countries mainly in the Middle East and Asia. To benefit from this huge potential to the maximum, Bangladesh needs to ease the recruitment systems without the involvement of the so called third party that has been blamed for fleecing overseas job seekers since Bangladesh started sending its workers abroad in large numbers during 70s. Considering the support of remittances sent by expatriates to the economy representing nearly 70 per cent of the country's foreign currency reserves, Bangladesh should not bite the hands that feed it.
Shamsul Huda is a senior Bangladeshi
journalist based in Saudi Arabia