Bangladesh migrants workers eye return while Malaysians struggle to keep or get jobs

Malaysian Human Resource Minister Datuk Seri Saravanan Murugan has reached a tentative agreement to allow resumption in the inflow of Bangladesh migrant workers, even as the Covid-19 pandemic economic has forced many locals to accept pay cuts or even lose their jobs.

This government-to-government agreement was reached during a Zoom meeting between Saravanan and Bangladesh Minister of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Imran Ahmad on 15 Oct 2020 – with some of the highlights posted on the Malaysian minister’s Facebook account.

The virtual meeting was also attended by newly-appointed Bangladesh High Commissioner to Malaysia Md Golam Sarwar – but there were other hidden persons keenly interested in these proceedings, namely Bestinet Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Ismail Mohd Noor and its founder-chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Abdul Nor. 

The reason why these Bestinet top executives kept a close watch on these proceedings is because the Malaysian firm had an almost exclusive hold on processing of Bangladesh migrants seeking to work in Malaysia.

While the inflow of foreign migrant workers into Malaysia had stopped as of March 2020 due to measures to control Covid-19 infections, the two governments are looking to resume this arrangement come June 2021 – subject to whether the pandemic has been brought under control.

But Bestinet isn’t waiting for formal agreements and has already set into motion steps to assert control over the Bangladesh migrant workers influx.

Sources say Bestinet was the hidden influence behind this Zoom meeting between the ministers as it has cobbled together a grouping of 20-30 migrant worker agencies in Bangladesh and Malaysia, asking each to pay 5 million Malaysian ringgit (US$1.2 million) to guarantee its participation and be ensured a quota for Bangladesh migrant workers they get to handle.

With Bestinet expecting to pocket around 150 million Malaysian ringgit, the Zoom meeting was meant to ensure migrant workers agencies will cough up the deposits now – even though it’s still unknown exactly when Bangladesh migrant workers will be allowed to resume inflow into Malaysia, as both Saravanan and Imran agreed this could be further delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

To get around this hurdle, Bestinet aims to take advantage of a loophole the Malaysian government recently approved – by allowing the rehiring of migrant workers already in Malaysia, but have yet to leave the country. What Bestinet plans is to simply process Bangladesh nationals who illegally enter Malaysia at their own risk via porous borders with Thailand or landing along deserted coastlines.

Bestinet has also been pushing hard to allow the return of foreign workers with valid permits, who are currently stuck in their home countries due to Covid-19 travel restrictions – aiming to use this as another loophole to bring in new Bangladesh migrant workers.

These underhanded tactics will simply feed the demands of Malaysian employers finding it hard to hire locals to fill what are described as low-paying 3D jobs – dirty, dangerous and demeaning – from cleaning to construction and in plantations. In the process, Bestinet’s tactics will undermine the Malaysian government’s avowed aims to either raise wages for these 3D jobs to attract locals or promote usage of advanced technology like robots to increase productivity.

As yet, it isn’t clear if Saravanan has already unleashed a new flood of Bangladesh migrant workers into Malaysia – but the backlash against such an influx will certainly roil locals already struggling to keep jobs and make ends meet amid the Covid-19 exacerbated economic turmoil.

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