The government is yet to find a common ground with Malaysia regarding the number of Bangladeshi recruiting agencies authorised to send workers there – which would have taken the country one step further towards reopening this labour market.
Bangladesh wants to involve the highest possible number of recruiting agencies in the process, Expatriates Welfare Minister Imran Ahmad told reporters on Wednesday.
Speaking after a Joint Working Group virtual meeting, participated by Malaysia's Human Resources Minister M Saravanan, Ahmad said, "Malaysia however agreed to gradually take back Bangladeshi workers who got stuck here while on leave amid the pandemic."
According to an unofficial estimate, at least 25,000 Bangladeshi workers are currently waiting to get back to Malaysia. The virtual meeting began for the second day on Wednesday at 12pm.
Commenting on the issue of reopening the Malaysian labour market, the minister said, "It will be difficult until the Covid-19 situation gets under control. But once the situation returns to normal, the labour market will reopen.
"Aside from this issue, we have also discussed various other matters related to workers' interest at the meeting."
Meanwhile, secretary to the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Ahmed Munirus Saleheen said, "Our discussion with Malaysia about sending workers to this country will continue. There are some matters the officials of both countries are yet to agree on.
"However, the main focus of today's [Wednesday] discussion was the number of authorised Bangladesh's recruiting agencies. We will hold a high-level discussion with the Malaysian government about sending workers there."
Malaysia, home to around eight lakh Bangladeshis, suspended labour recruitment from Bangladesh in September 2018 following allegations of a market monopoly by some Bangladeshi recruiting agents and the high cost of migration.
Since then, a series of meetings have taken place between the two countries on labour market reopening, but to no avail.
While Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur continue talks this time, some Bangladeshi manpower exporters have complained about a conspiracy to award 25 recruiting agencies with the responsibility of exporting manpower to Malaysia.
The exporters demanded equal opportunities for all recruiting agencies in all labour markets. They have been staging demonstrations in Dhaka for the last couple of days to press home their demands.
According to the G2G Plus agreement signed by Bangladesh and Malaysia in 2016, Bangladesh was to send 15 lakh workers in three years to Malaysia. The agreement allowed private firms to send workers to Malaysia through government arrangement.
At that time, the maximum immigration cost was set at Tk37,000 per person and the recruitment process was brought online. Ten recruiters replaced the existing 1,200 recruiting agencies.
Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, immediate past secretary general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), said, "It was one of the worst conspiracies in the manpower export sector."