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MALAYSIAN LABOUR MARKET HANGS IN BALANCE

Syndication conspiracy poses threat

No syndication will be allowed in any form, says Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry Secretary Dr Ahmed Munirus Saleheen
Special Correspondent
28 Apr 2022 00:00:00 | Update: 28 Apr 2022 00:15:41
Syndication conspiracy poses threat
Malaysia-bound workers at the waiting lounge of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka– Collected Photo

When Malaysia is about to reopen its labour market after a long pause, the unscrupulous activities of a vested group is again creating uncertainty and plotting a syndication conspiracy, threatening the reopening of the huge Malaysian labour market for Bangladeshi workers.

Bestinet is called the leader of this syndicate, and its unscrupulous activities continue unabated in Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur.

The Malaysian labour market, which holds the potential for huge remittances, was closed in 2018 due to the syndicate’s unscrupulous activities. The syndicate comprising 25 recruiting agencies will have very negative impacts in this sector.

The formation of such a syndicate will not serve the interests of expatriate workers and also tarnish the country’s reputation. Stakeholders are worried that the whole sector, including the legal recruiting agencies, will be in serious trouble.

They say if there is a syndicate, there will be various irregularities, including an increase in migration costs again, while about 2,000 recruiting agencies will lose business. There also poses a risk of money laundering.

The method that Bestinet used to send workers at that time created a scope for swindling the workers in phases. At one stage, the Malaysian government stopped importing workers from Bangladesh in the face of allegations of various irregularities and corruption.

The previous Amin-Swapan syndicate has become active since the possibility of reopening Malaysia’s labour market for Bangladeshis. Many influential people in the government, who are involved in this, are trying to take political and diplomatic advantage by spreading information through various channels.

Their various unscrupulous activities, propaganda, and conspiracies are tarnishing the government’s image and reputation at home and abroad.

It is a matter of great concern for the government that the Amin-Swapan group, according to various sources, has already transacted a lot of money, and also laundered, in the name of including 25 licences in the syndicate. This urgently needs to be brought under the government’s close monitoring.

Different complications arose over the syndicate due to the unjustified proposal to send workers through 25 licences outside the terms of the Malaysian human resources minister’s memorandum of understanding (MoU).

In response to the letter of the Malaysian minister, Bangladesh’s expatriates’ welfare minister proposed following the MoU or finalising the recruitment process through a joint working committee meeting by referring to Bangladesh’s Competition Act and the equal rights of all licences.

He further said Bangladesh is always in favour of transparent, fair, and safe migration as per the ILO convention.

Several BAIRA leaders said if the syndicate is implemented by the vested quarter many problems will arise. They include:

Irregularities, corruption, and migration costs will increase while the anti-state activities of several individuals of the vested quarter will be conducted like in the past

The implementation of overseas employment of 1,000 workers in each upazila, as per the announcement of the prime minister, will be hampered

Negative reports on irregularities and corruption in domestic and foreign media will increase a lot, which has already begun. As a result, the reputation of the government and the country will be seriously damaged

If a limited number of recruiting agencies work, that will reduce the speed of sending workers while hundreds of agencies will be deprived of their right to do business despite having the capacity

Instead of expanding, the labour market is likely to be closed any time as before

Irregularities, anarchy, and rivalries will increase in the manpower export sector

It would be disgraceful for an independent country if Malaysia imports workers through a syndicate only from Bangladesh but does so in regular ways from 13 other source countries without any syndicate

Due to the extra migration costs and labour exploitation in Malaysia, the products of some Malaysian companies have been banned in various countries, including Canada and America. This will later affect the labour market in Bangladesh

Former BAIRA finance secretary Fakhrul Islam said, “Bangladesh should announce publicly that it will not approve any kind of syndicate and tell the Malaysian minister again that if they want to recruit workers from Bangladesh, the process should be the same which is applicable for all other 13 countries.

And it will not delay the opening of the Malaysian labour market. The malpractices of the syndicate will stop once the bold step is taken and there will be no proposal for any syndicate in the future.

When our neighbouring Nepal does not require any special rule or syndicate to send labourers, why Bangladesh would have to send workers through a particular syndicate? Are we weaker than even Nepal? Never! It is a matter of our self-esteem.

We want to send workers to Malaysia but not at any cost, not by compromising our self-esteem and bargaining with the country. We will not send workers to realise personal interest of any certain quarter or make the sector heaven of corruption. Rather, the market has to open based on equal status.

Moreover, the people behind the formula of a syndicate of 25 recruiting agencies are also eyeing the business of health screening of the Malaysia-bound workers.

As per the recently signed memorandum of understanding, Malaysia will take 10 lakh workers and all of them have to pass through the health screening. A syndicate of 35 medical centres has started vying for business benefits utilising the provision of health screening for the 10 lakh workers.

The memorandum of understanding does not oblige any foreign company to take care of the primary health screening of the workers in Bangladesh. The memorandum of understanding clearly states that the health screening of the Malaysian-bound workers must be carried out by a medical centre approved and designated by the government of Bangladesh.

A large section of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA), the platform of manpower exporting agency owners, has been accusing Malaysian company Bestinet of being the ringleader of the syndicate.

There are allegations that the company is involved in various malpractices in Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur. Dato Shree Amin, a Malaysian citizen of Bangladeshi descent, and his Bangladeshi business partner Ruhul Amin Swapan are helping the company behind the scenes.

The labour market, which has the potential for huge remittances, was closed down for the misconduct of the syndicate three-and-a-half years ago. Ruhul Amin Swapan is directly involved with several organisations of the syndicate of 35 medical centres.

The ring is extorting a huge amount of money from the owners of the medical centres in the name of registration. All such controversial acts are being carried out without any approval from the Bangladesh government.

Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmed said, “I hope the Malaysian labour market will open soon but it cannot be specifically mentioned when the market will open. When the market does open, the interests of the country and the workers should be looked after first.

Responding to another question, the minister said that no medical centre has been approved by the government for health examinations, and the matter is still under process.

In 2019, an advertisement was published in newspapers asking medical centres engaged in health screening of outgoing workers to register with the expatriates’ welfare ministry on the basis of efficiency.

Then a committee was hurriedly formed to check the standard of the medical centres, and it also visited many medical centres.

Later, at the beginning of 2022, in light of the Policy on Health Examination of Migrant Workers (Revised) 2022, another notice was issued for enlisting the required number of medical centres. Fresh applications were called cancelling the applications submitted against the 2019 advertisement.

Expressing their disappointment, BAIRA members said the Foreign Workers Centralized Management System (FWCMS) has published a list of 35 medical centres on its website, but the majority of those have no quality and approval.

So, questions arise on what basis the FWCMS made this list, and who approved it? This kind of action from a foreign company – that acted without informing the Bangladesh government and disregarded the government’s rules and regulations – is illegal and unacceptable.

Who are the people behind these medical centres? Why does this list contain none of the country’s top healthcare organisations – both public and private?

BAIRA members then asked how a foreign company shows the audacity to take money without the health ministry’s approval or no objection clearance. An investigation should be launched to check whether the expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry is involved here.

If the Malaysian government employs a private firm to ensure quality of workers’ health examination, making workers go through another health checkup after they arrive in Malaysia becomes irreverent.

Such issues have caused dissatisfaction and unrest in the labour market. Several existing and former leaders of BAIRA complained that large sums of cash changed hands centring the medical centre issue, and cash still continues to change hands.

BAIRA leaders said if the FWCMS had made the list as a requirement of the Malaysian government, then why do workers have to go though yet another physical examination after arriving in Malaysia?

There has been no progress on this issue after so many things have happened. So, fraud continues in the name of syndicate.

A senior member of the BAIRA executive committee said, if the FOMEMA standard can be ensured in the physical exam of aspirant migrants here, then I do not see the necessity of a second medical checkup of them in Malaysia.

However, to ensure this standard here, our expatriate minister should ask for support from the Malaysian government and FOMEMA. The syndicate – formed by a handful of people – will have a severely negative impact on the health and manpower export sectors.

Such a syndicate will damage workers’ interest and tarnish the country’s reputation.

Industry insiders said a syndicate results in skyrocketing migration costs and various irregularities. Besides, it also increases the possibility and risks of money laundering.

He further said the health ministry and expatriates’ welfare ministries must work together to select medical centres after checking quality. We must not become hostages to a service provider from abroad under the name biomedical.

Last time, a foreign system provider embezzled a large sum of money citing excuses of biomedical and online x-ray reports from Malaysian doctors. To rake in more profits, four health checkups were carried out for one visa.

Despite the so-called digitisation and modern process, thousands of people were termed medically unfit in Malaysia.

Previous experiences show that the biomedical records of hundreds of workers got deleted due to a glitch in the FWCMS’ portal. Thousands of workers did not get their medical reports even after waiting a month, causing employers to take workers from other countries.

Lakhs of workers shared an unfortunate fate because their physical examination became a monopolised business.

Government data shows that 2.75 lakh workers went to Malaysia under the G2G Plus process from February 2017 to December 2018. On the other hand, due to the FWCMS’ manipulations and syndicate of medical centres, medical exams multiple times that figure were conducted.

By charging Tk 3,500 per person as biomedical fee, the FWCMS has embezzled hundreds of crores of Taka. Thousands of workers, despite being medically fit, could not go to Malaysia due to various complications arising from the FWCMS’ syndicate.

These workers also did not receive any compensation. Accepting the same syndicate and their same formula is nothing but backing corruption and ignoring the workers’ interest.

The Malaysian government has adopted a “Zero Cost Migration System” for employing foreign workers because of a severe labour shortage and international pressure.

To free the labour market from syndication, along with diplomatic initiatives, the expatriate welfare ministry must take a clear stance on issues such as physical examination of workers and lessening the costs of migration.

Only then the dominance of middlemen and syndicates will decrease in the manpower export sector, and “Safe Migration” can be ensured.

Dr.Ahmed Munirus Saleheen,  Secretary of the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, said they wanted an urgent meeting of the joint working group(JWG) on manpower export to sort out issues hindering the manpower export to Malaysia through open and transparent method.

“We have proposed for a JWG meeting on May 12 in Dhaka to sort out issues centring the manpower export to Malaysia without any syndication,’’ Saleheen told The Business Post on Tuesday.

“Both Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur are keen on sending and recruiting manpower. But, we have still some issues to be sorted out,” he added.

The proposed meeting will fix the process on how the manpower export from Bangladesh to Malaysia will be initiated without any syndication, Saleheen hoped.