The labour wing of the Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur has not only been lenient towards unauthorised manpower brokers but have also patronised the brokers as they hired surplus workers against fake documents, ultimately leaving thousands of Bangladeshis stranded jobless across Malaysia.
Whereas not a single worker could have entered Malaysia for work unless the labour wing attested the job approvals issued by Malaysian authorities, the section now denies it had any responsibility to verify the documents before attesting them.
Labour Counsellor Talat Mahmud Khan who has already been recalled to the country following Malaysia’s cancellation of 55,000 work visas, allegedly has ‘close ties’ with manpower brokers in the country. That is why he approved the attestation of all job approvals whether they were genuine or not, it is alleged.
Influential brokers have also persuaded some Malaysian employers to get more job approvals authorised from the Malaysian government and these are then sold to recruiting agencies in Bangladesh to make money.
Although the government rate for workers wishing to go to Malaysia for work stands at Tk 84,000, the actual cost incurred by a worker now ranges between Tk 2 lakh and Tk 3 lakh. The workers are forced to pay a chain of brokers at different levels only to be exploited and stranded when they reach the foreign land.
Again when these hapless workers land in Malaysia, manpower brokers ‘buy’ them from their employers or outsourcing companies and supply them to other workplaces for temporary work. The exploitation doesn’t end at that, the brokers also charge money from the worker’s wages leaving the labourers with only the minimum for their sustenance, and sometimes, nothing at all.
These unauthorised brokers often confine workers to rooms known as ‘godowns’ when they demand jobs, salaries or register a protest.
It is ironic, but not really surprising, that most of the leaders and members of Bangladesh Workers Welfare Association — set up in Malaysia to ensure welfare of workers under the leadership of Talat Mahmud Khan — are manpower brokers.
Sources allege that this association is actually more occupied in covering up labour problems than helping the workers.
Asked why the labour wing did not take measures against these brokers who indulge in such a degree of malpractices and are responsible for ruining Bangladesh’s labour market, Talat failed to give any satisfactory answer.
“You cannot do anything about the association as they have other businesses to run too,” he said during an interview with The Daily Star at the Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur on March 3.
He said the main problems did not lie with brokers, rather the recruiting agencies in Bangladesh.
Talat, however, admitted the exploitation of workers by the brokers.
He said, “They take money from both sides — both the recruiting agencies and employers in Malaysia — but they do not perform their end of the bargain, which is why they cannot put pressure on employers for payment of salaries or other things including renewal of work permits.”
Replying to another question, Talat claimed he had written to Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) that each recruiting agency should have at least one authorised representative in Malaysia so that he (Talat) can contact them when problems arise.
The labour counsellor said he made similar recommendations to the taskforce on overseas employment during their visit to Malaysia during the tenure of the caretaker government.
But the reality is that no recommendation ever yielded any results. Rather the exploitation of workers continued unabated and after the Malaysian media highlighted the workers plight along with an interview with Talat Mahmud, the authorities cancelled 55,000 work visas to Bangladeshis.
Asked if brokers influence employers or outsourcing companies to get more job approvals authorised than jobs available, only to make more profit, Khan said the situation is actually dependant on a demand and supply equation.
Talat said that the Malaysian government is responsible for the availability of excessive job approvals.
“If we do not attest approvals, some Malaysian employers bring letters from the prime minister’s office (Malaysian) stating ‘they will solve everything’ if problems arise.”
Though officials say it is the responsibility of the home ministry, and not of the high commission, to verify the genuineness of the job approvals, Talat said that it was not possible for him to verify all approvals from around 9000 companies by himself.
When the blame game and denials and confessions continue, there are still no steps from the government to make these unauthorised brokers accountable in any way.
Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Secretary Ilias Ahmed told The Daily Star on March 29 the government was discussing the issue of bringing manpower brokers under legal framework with BAIRA.
Source: The Daily Star, 08 April 2009