(Updated)

HR Ministry says 25 companies chosen for Bangladeshi worker recruitment to avoid monopoly

Datuk Seri M. Saravanan (Bernama filepix)

Datuk Seri M. Saravanan (Bernama filepix)

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KUALA LUMPUR (June 19): The Human Resources Ministry, which has come under fire recently for selecting only 25 companies for the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers, says the chosen was an increase from the original 10 companies that were allowed to do so previously, and that the increase was to safeguard the welfare and livelihood of foreign workers, and to avoid monopolistic practices.

Previously, the monopolistic nature of the 10 selected companies resulted in many workers being lured by the promise of decent work but subsequently left stranded by agencies from both countries, its minister Datuk Dr M Saravanan said in a statement Sunday.

"Therefore, to safeguard the welfare and livelihood of foreign workers, the agreed (sic) to increase from 10 to 25 companies to ensure a check and balance mechanism is implemented in the 25 designated companies. But to avoid monopoly and abuse, at the same time to create greater accessibility to potential workers, the Human Resources Ministry will further accredit another 250 companies from the list provided by our Bangladesh counterpart," he said.

These 250 companies will be selected from the list of 1,520 recruitment companies provided from Bangladesh, from which the 25 companies were previously chosen. However, the HR Ministry will still deal only with the initially chosen 25 companies.

"These 250 companies selected will work within the structure of the 25 companies. In simple terms, each of the 25 companies will be allocated 10 companies to incubate and to be part of the recruitment ecosystem, especially in meeting the standards and guidelines set by the Human Resources Ministry," he said.

"Hence, what is the difference between the 25 and 250 companies? First of all, the Human Resources Ministry only deals with the 25 designated companies. There (sic) are monitored by the Ministry closely, so as to ensure that International Labour Organisation guidelines relating to the welfare of the workers are adhered to, especially in terms of living and working conditions of foreign workers.

"Malaysia is serious in tackling the issue of forced labour, which is tarnishing our international standing. And secondly, it is the sole responsibility of the 25 to ensure the other 250 meet the strict recruitment standards and international best practices set by the Human Resources Ministry," he said.

Saravanan's statement came after he was called on by Klang MP Charles Santiago and two migrant workers' rights groups to explain his decision for only allowing 25 Bangladeshi agencies to recruit workers for Malaysia.

Saravanan also clarified that any allegations pertaining to the involvement of the Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh in the selection of the 25 recruitment companies is totally false and unfounded. 

"My statement of meeting with Her Excellency and explaining the current affairs of the Bangladeshi foreign workers in our country is taken out of context. My meeting with Her Excellency was to narrate the current situation of foreign workers and the initiatives taken by my Ministry for better working conditions," he said.

"I hereby would like to state that any allegations pertaining to the involvement of the Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh in the selection of the 25 recruitment companies is totally false and unfounded. My statement of meeting with Her Excellency and explaining the current affairs of the Bangladeshi foreign workers in our country is taken out of context. My meeting with Her Excellency was to narrate the current situation of foreign workers and the initiatives taken by my Ministry for better working conditions."

Last Thursday, Saravanan was reported as saying that Dhaka and Putrajaya jointly agreed to a limit of 25 agencies for the purpose, and that it was the prerogative of the source country to decide on how many agencies should be approved for the recruitment of workers for foreign countries. He was also quoted as saying that he had met the Bangladeshi prime minister and that she had agreed on the 25, and questioned why Malaysian MPs were jumping about the issue.

But later that same day, the Bangladeshi government refuted Saravanan's claim that Dhaka was the one who decided on the number of companies allowed to supply workers to Malaysia. Bangladesh's Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad said neither he nor the republic's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had approved the recruitment companies, The Business Post, a Bangladeshi news agency, reported.

Imran also clarified that there was no clause mentioning 25 agencies in the memorandum of understanding inked between the two countries for the worker recruitment, and that the Bangladeshi government did not set a limit on the number of recruitment companies to supply its people as workers to Malaysia.

He also said his meeting with Saravanan in Dhaka on June 2 did not discuss the 25 agencies. “Before leaving Dhaka, Saravanan told journalists that usually, the receiving country decides about the agencies, and Malaysia will do this according to the decision of its cabinet. If so, how can he say that we already approved the matter?” he reportedly questioned.

HR Ministry to be one-stop centre for foreign worker approval

Meanwhile, Saravanan said his ministry had no preference towards source countries, and that it is only involved in giving approvals to the respective companies to recruit foreign workers to meet their production demands. 

"There are 14 sources countries in which any companies can source their workers from, and not particularly only from Bangladesh. Moreover, when I came onboard, I made a decision that there will not be any direct or special approval, a rampant practice before which had created too many backlashes especially in-terms of our nation’s international reputation," he added.

He also said that henceforth, all foreign worker recruitment approvals must come from the Human Resources Ministry.

"The one-stop centre for foreign workers’ approval which was previously under the Home Affairs Ministry has been transferred to the Human Resources Ministry, as practiced in many countries. And to date, the department has approved approximately 230,000 workers as of Wednesday... It is now up to the relevant companies which have obtained their approvals to pay the levy and make the recruitment and submit the medical report to get a visa with reference with the Home Ministry, to expedite the rest of the process to ensure the survivability of our enterprises," he added.