Dhaka, Feb 20: The governments of Bangladesh and Malaysia have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the exchange of 1.5 million workers in the next three years. The final agreement was reached on 18 February between Nurul Islam, Bangladesh Minister for Welfare of Expatriates and Workers Abroad, and Datuk Seri Richard Riot, Malaysian Minister for Human Resources.
The signing comes after lengthy discussions, during which several reservations were raised from both countries about future conditions of Bangladeshi workers abroad and the danger that this could represent for the domestic labour market of Malaysia.
The issue of Bangladeshi migrant workers is becoming more and more sensitive. The migrants go abroad in search of better living conditions and the governments of the host countries welcome the large influx of cheap labor.
Lately, however, a number of cases have emerged of the exploitation and abuse that these workers suffer abroad. Saudi Arabia is one of the riskiest countries of destination, especially for women. Some of them have talked to AsiaNews about the dramatic conditions in which they were forced to live as domestic slaves by day; at night, sex slaves for employers and their male employees.
The new agreement with Malaysia has raised concerns, especially when it became known that the authorities in Kuala Lumpur would have hired immigrants through the private sector, so as to have more tax cuts. In fact, according to the agreement, the tax per employee will be equal to 1,946 Malaysian ringgit (about 415 euro).
This has raised protests from unions in both countries. On the one hand, the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira) has lamented the "possible monopoly of Malaysian trade unions of companies in the recruitment of workers".
Instead the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) is concerned that such favourable tax conditions could damage the Malaysian workers. The association has submitted a report in denouncing the government's agreement and urging the formation of a Royal Commission of Inquiry and the cancellation of MOU to protect the interests of the Malaysian people.
From San Francisco, where he is on a state visit, the Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said he would discuss the issue with the deputy prime minister. Either way Najib pledged that "every decision made by the government is to meet the needs of the economy."