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Govt steps must to end migrant workers’ exploitation

New Age, Bangladesh, 15 July 2022 - THE government’s failure to put in place any mechanism to ensure that recruiting agents do not charge workers bound for Malaysia more than the migration cost that it sets is worrying in that the reopening of the Malaysian labour market for Bangladeshi workers, after about four years of suspension, could run into problems again because of irregularities. In 2016, the government set Tk 37,500 as the migration cost, but workers had to pay about Tk 400,000–500,000 in the absence of government measures to enforce the set rate. Malaysia then suspended the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers because of such irregularities. On July 5, the expatriates’ welfare ministry set Tk 78,990 as the migration cost to Malaysia. The government is, however, yet to take any measure to enforce a strict compliance by recruiting agencies with the rate. While migration experts say that Bangladesh could double the number of workers in Malaysia in the next five years as the country needs migrant workers in a range of sectors, they fear that an absence of effective government measures to protect migrant workers from such exploitation could frustrate the purpose.

In such a situation, a ranking Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training official seeks to say that the government cannot check exorbitant costs of migration unless workers become aware of the problem. The government conveniently appears to forget that the responsibility to make migrant workers aware of the risk of exploitation at the hands of recruiting agencies or intermediaries falls on the government. Recruiting agents, on the other hand, say that the extra money that workers usually pay for migration lines the pockets of intermediaries who exploit the workers. Such intermediaries, however, do not operate in a vacuum, which suggests that there could be a profiteering nexus of errant government officials, recruiting agencies and intermediaries that exploits migrant workers and, thus, harms the potential of the migrant labour market. Such exploitation of migrant workers will continue unless the government comes up with a strategy involving all stakeholders. Recruiting agents say that intermediaries will not be able to influence the migration process if the agencies are allowed to select prospective workers from the manpower bureau database. Some recruiting agencies also say that they asked the government two and a half years ago to take steps against intermediaries, but no steps have been visible since then. The reopening of the Malaysian labour market for Bangladeshi workers may run into similar problems if the government fails to act again. This will only hurt the national economy, especially at a time when the foreign currency reserve has already been considerably strained.



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