Messy affair in Malaysia

July 31, 2011

Uncertainty grips Bangladeshis as brokers meddle in KL’s amnesty to illegal workers
The much-awaited amnesty programme for the irregular foreign workers in Malaysia starts tomorrow amid confusion in many Bangladeshi expatriates about their status.
Around 5 lakh Bangladeshis work in the Southeast Asian nation. Of them, over 3 lakh are irregular and are facing threats of arrest, low pay or other forms of exploitation.
The amnesty would allow the irregular workers to either return home without facing penalty or continue with their jobs. The announcement came as a great relief to these workers, but many of them are confused about their status because of work permit and employer related issues.
The confusion intensifies with the fact that the Malaysian government is registering the regular workers to create a biometric database of the foreign workers to bring discipline in the sector.
The confusion hits thousands of workers who, prior to the amnesty announcement, submitted passports with hefty fees to brokers or agents for renewal of their work permit. These workers have yet to receive fresh work permit and are in a state of confusion about whether they would consider themselves as documented or undocumented workers.
Mohammad Khalil Mia, who works at a dairy farm in the Malaysian district of Sembilan, said his agent took his passport around 14 months ago but did not return it with renewed work permit.
Talking to The Daily Star at Kota Raya known as Bangla Town in Kuala Lumpur, he said he had come to Malaysia to work as a plantation worker in Pahang district.
He did not get his salary for the first eight months and then was confined in a room for a month along with other workers, he added. Some of them somehow managed to collect their passports and found jobs elsewhere. However, every year they had to go to the agent for fresh work permit in exchange of around RM 2,000.
“We thought we would get our work permit. But now the agent says the immigration department is not going to renew it. We do not know what to do now. We are totally confused,” he said.
Mantu Kumar Biswas, labour counsellor of the Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, said the workers who were recruited through outsourcing agents are facing such problems.
Those who have submitted their passports to the immigration department must have a receipt with them, proving that they are documented migrants, he added.
The problem, however, is many such workers do not have that document either, said Goutam Roy, editor of a Malaysia-based Bangla weekly Probashi Kantho that extensively covers migrant issues.
There is strong presence of brokers in Malaysia, he said, adding that if any broker takes money and passports from workers but does not go to the immigration department, there is no question for those workers to get work permit.
In such cases, if these workers are not registered as irregular workers, they will be in deep water, Roy observed.
There are a large number of workers who have work permit but are unable to proceed with the process as they don’t find any employers.
Plantation worker Khalilur Rahman is one such example. Since his arrival in Malaysia in 2008, his outsourcing company Meghnaton provides him with neither job nor work permit. Meghnaton rather asked him along with others to find out jobs on their own.
“I was looking for a job. Sometimes I got a job with normal or low pay, while sometimes I was unpaid,” he said. However, every year he gets his work permit renewed through brokers.
The last time he renewed his work permit through a broker was in June by paying Malaysian ringgit 1,500 [RM1=Tk 25]. But now the Malaysian government has set a rule that regular workers must bring their employers with them to get registered.
This has become a problem for the regular workers like Khalilur, as his original employer Meghnaton now denies registering him and many others like him.
“I am a regular worker but cannot be registered as regular. Should I now burn my passport and get registered as irregular?” he asked. He added it is not possible for him to spend another RM 2,000 to get another work permit after being registered as irregular.
Harun Al Rashid, coordinator of regional migrants’ rights body Caram Asia, said in the books of the government Meghnaton is a blacklisted outsourcing company and that could be the reason why it is not helping the migrants like Khalilur.
There are a number of blacklisted outsourcing companies, whose workers might be in trouble to get themselves registered, he noted.
Editor Goutam Roy said there would be around one lakh Bangladeshis facing such problems.
Asked about the issue, labour counsellor Mantu Kumar Biswas said this is truly a problem and they are trying hard to solve it.
Speaking anonymously, a broker said the only option for the migrants with work permit and without employer is they should get registered as irregular workers.
Many undocumented migrants told The Daily Star they have found it really difficult to get employers who would agree to own them and register them as their workers though they have worked under them.
Mantu Kumar Biswas said the workers must register them even if they don’t find any employers. In that case, the Malaysian government will find employers for them once registration is over.

-With The Daily Star input

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