Global migration experts have welcomed the Malaysian government’s move to eliminate middlemen who charge millions of foreign workers exorbitant recruitment fees, leaving them saddled with debt and vulnerable to exploitation.
From factories to construction sites and plantations, Malaysia relies heavily on foreign workers for jobs shunned by locals.
Many expatriates arrive after borrowing huge sums to pay recruitment agents, consequently they have to work for years earning virtually nothing - a form of modern-day slavery known as debt bondage.
To address the situation, recently Malaysia struck a deal with Nepal to directly recruit its workers, without going through agents. The agreement came after Nepal suspended sending workers due to concerns about their treatment.
The agreement with Nepal aims at curbing human trafficking and exploitation of workers, Malaysian human resources minister M. Kulasegaran told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
‘They must not be in a bondage situation in this country and caught in a vicious cycle of earning to pay back money.’
Under the agreement, which came into effect on October 29, Nepali workers will be hired on a government-to-government basis. Malaysian employers will have to bear all the recruitment costs, including airfare, and visa and medical check-up fees.
Kulasegaran said Malaysia was negotiating similar agreements with Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal are the top providers of Malaysia's nearly two million registered migrant workers, government figures show. There are millions more without work permits.
The world's largest glove maker, the Malaysian firm Top Glove, said this month it would cut ties with unethical recruitment agents, after some of its migrant workers were found to have clocked excessive overtime to clear debts.
Debt bondage is one of the most prevalent forms of modern slavery, which affects more than 40 million people worldwide, according to the United Nations' International Labour Organization.
Kulasegaran urged major firms operating in Malaysia to take the lead in ensuring there were no labour abuses of migrant workers.
Global migration expert and Hague based Bangladeshi diaspora forum BASUG’ chairman Bikash Chowdhury Barua has welcome the announcement of the Malaysian government to take steps in order to eliminate ‘middlemen’ who exploit millions of foreign workers while charging recruitment fees and put them in the chain of debts for years together,.
‘We hope that the Malaysian government will also strike a deal with Bangladesh government so that the Bangladeshi workers do not face such problems in the hands of the middlemen at both ends,’ he said.
He added that if such deal could be struck between Bangladesh and Malaysian government, it would reduce human trafficking and exploitation of the workers.
‘We also urge the Bangladesh government to make our mission in Malaysia more migrants-friendly,’ he said.
During a recent visit to Malaysia, he quoted a group of Bangladeshi migrant workers saying that ‘we are not treated properly by our mission in Malaysia, while we are according to our government ‘golden sons’ of the country.’
Malaysia-based human rights group North South Initiative's director Adrian Pereira said hat the agents were overcharging ‘is a very old story.’
‘Malaysia and its cross border counterpart agencies have very weak collaboration when it comes to access to justice and putting an end to overcharging,’ he said.
He said that the Malaysian companies who use their services must be held responsible and return all the excess money back to the workers.
‘So only when there is solid cross border enforcements and compliance with global standards on Human Rights and Business can we address this issue.’
Over eight lakh Bangladeshi workers are working in Malaysia.