Shattered Dreams Of Migrant Workers -1: Trapped by nexus of brokers, employers


The employment was supposed to be permanent and the monthly wages were promised to be 600 Ringgits (RM). But they were employed for only 22 days in the first three months and paid just RM 200.

“Sometimes we could manage food with that money, sometimes we starved. When there was no work we were kept in godowns together,” Moniruzzaman told The Daily Star sitting at a makeshift restaurant in front of Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.

Moniruzzaman, 25, of Jhenidah, is one of 21 workers who went to Malaysia in September last year through recruiting agencies.

“Malaysian and Bangladeshi agents take away large portions of our wages and then sell us to another agent,” he was describing how Bangladeshi workers fell into a vicious trap of modern day slavery as outsourcing companies, brokers and errant employers have used labour supply for a money-making scheme. The outsourcing companies even keep the passports of the workers and demand money in return for those.

These fortune seekers followed all procedures required to go to their “dreamland” and spent huge amounts of money but now they can neither earn enough to support their families back home nor can they survive in Malaysia themselves.

These workers remained stranded in Kuala Lumpur airport for four days before their agent Joya Bala took them to Johor Baru to sell them to at least three other agents.

Another worker named Zahirul Islam said, “With expired work permits or without any job, we are living haphazardly–under a bridge maybe, but then, police raid the place.”

As per rules, workers have to go through medical tests within one month of arrival and then the employer secures work permits for them. These 21 workers paid their agents RM 200 thrice for medical tests but the tests were never done. Besides, Motijheel Management SDN, which hired these workers, kept their passports.

Malaysia introduced outsourcing of hiring workers and employing them at companies on contract in 2006. However, there are several hundred registered companies that do not have any capacity to recruit workers at all. These companies are supposed to arrange minimum pay, food and shelter for the workers even if there are no jobs.

But, in the absence of monitoring, these companies hired too many workers and ultimately failed to find jobs for them. They then started selling workers to brokers who supply them to other companies with a little or no pay.

Moniruzzaman said, “As we did not have work permits we came to the high commission hoping to get back our passports. We informed the officials here of our situation more than a month ago, but nothing has happened so far.

“Liton of recruiting agency Hirak Barnali in Dhaka said we have to pay RM 1,300 each to get back our passports and RM 3,000 to return home in case we do not get back passports. But where will we get the money?” said the hapless youth who had spent Tk 2.3 lakh to go to Malaysia.

Jahangir Mollah, 40, of Faridpur, is one of 29 workers who have been in Malaysia for around 18 months. He was, however, employed for just three months. Maps Vision, a company that does not have the capacity to recruit workers at all, hired these workers and supplied them to another company named Pilot.

“In the contract form, my basic salary was RM 30 a day, but I was paid RM 25,” said Jahangir who spent Tk 2.10 lakh to go to Malaysia. “When we wanted our salary, some Tamil men beat us up,” he said.

After getting back passports they sought the high commission’s assistance in getting jobs, but they did not get any job and their work permits expired.

“I then brought Tk 55,000 from home…I spent RM 1,800 to renew my work permit without any result,” he said. “My wife and children are having hardship back home. I cannot send home any money. Police also raid regularly. Who will get me released if I am arrested?” he added.

Talking to The Daily Star, Florida Sandanasamy, lawyer of human rights organisation Tenaganita in Kuala Lumpur, said they filed thousands of cases with the labour court and police. “Whatever money the workers earn in rightful ways is shared as commission to the outsourcing companies and agents. Also, employers keep passports and give those back for big amounts,” Sandanasamy said.

When work permits are not renewed, the immigration gives a worker a special pass for three months, but the worker has to pay RM 100 a month, she said. “Ironically, workers with special pass are not allowed to work…How is a worker going to pay that RM 100 a month? And where do they go at a place far from their families?” she said.

Source: The Daily Star (www.thedailystar.net), 06 April 2009

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