The Human Resources Ministry of Malaysia has denied the alleged existence of a syndicate and monopoly in the appointment of Bangladesh Recruitment Agencies (BRAs) as Malaysia and Bangladesh inked a new five-year agreement involving the hiring of one million workers.
The Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira) has been complaining about a monopoly or recruitment syndicate, which has increased migration cost and caused various other irregularities.
Pushing aside the allegation, M Saravanan, minister of the Human Resources Ministry of Malaysia, stressed there is no monopoly or syndicate from the Malaysian side, reports Malaysiakini.
"The memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between Malaysia and Bangladesh was not something new. It is a renewal of the old MoU, which was inked in 2016," he said.
Saravanan was asked to respond to allegations of a recruitment monopoly after the government agreed to appoint 25 BRAs and 250 sub-agents instead of recruiting more agencies.
"Under the old MoU, only 10 BRAs were appointed. Everybody reacted by terming this a monopoly. So I increased the number of BRAs to 25 and 250 sub-agents. In total, there are 275 agencies as compared with 10 previously," he added.
"If we want a recruitment monopoly, we can just keep the 10 agencies on the ground as stipulated in the old MoU. But, I increased it to 275 sub-agents. There is no monopoly," he added further.
On why the ministry appointed the 275 sub-agents instead of 1,600 agencies as Baira requested, Saravanan said he did not want Malaysia to be turned into a "dumping ground" for migrant workers.
"Allowing all these agencies will make Malaysia a dumping ground and I can't monitor all of them if any of them collect additional charges from the worker. At least now we are able to trace them and the complaints will be manageable," he added.
The Bangladesh government urged Malaysia to keep the BRAs selection process transparent and fair, rejecting any form of monopoly or syndication.
Baira also requested equal opportunity for all of its nearly 1,600 members to be allowed to send workers to Malaysia.
List of agencies provided by Bangladesh
Explaining further, Saravanan said these recruitment agencies were not directly selected by Malaysia.
The minister revealed that he received a letter from the Bangladesh government saying that he should choose from a list of agencies provided by them, which made it easier to select and evaluate agencies before making a choice.
"I do not know any of these companies, the list comes from Bangladesh. We conduct an evaluation based on their track record and other elements," he added.
Saravanan also said there is no additional hidden cost in the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers.
"Unlike the previous process where the recruitment agencies were prohibited from applying on behalf of the employers, only employers are allowed to apply directly to the ministry.
"From there, we evaluate or check if the companies (employers) really exist and the size of the business. We will check if they operate according to the additional conditions set under the Workers' Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act.
"Once the process is completed, we will refer the application to the Home Ministry, where the Immigration Department will process the permit (approval). There is no charge from the Human Resources Ministry," he added.
For the record, the application for employment of foreign workers for Bangladeshi workers was suspended by the Pakatan Harapan government.
The negotiation on the new hiring terms led by the then human resources minister M Kulasegaran had been delayed several times, until the collapse of the Harapan administration.
In the previous system, every Bangladeshi worker needed to fork up to RM20,000 to pay an agent to facilitate the permit approval and other requirements in Malaysia.
Saravanan admitted there were syndicates receiving more than they deserved in the past.
"This is something that happened before and it's one of the causes of forced labour. This is why we are trying to limit the number of BRAs, so it will be easier for us to monitor," he said.
On 19 Dec, 2021, Saravanan and Bangladesh's Expatriates' and Overseas Welfare Minister Imran Ahmed signed the Bangladeshi workers recruitment agreement, lifting a freeze imposed since Sept 1, 2018, under the then Harapan government.