The Malaysian government has reduced the cost of hiring Bangladeshi workers four times less than before. Although the government fixed the migration cost at Tk 160,000, a local worker bound for Malaysia needs to pay Tk 40,000 only. The rest of the amount will be paid by the Malaysian employers, according to reports.
The decision came at a recent meeting of the Bangladesh-Malaysia joint working group held in the city. However, many express fear that if visa trading continues, workers would not benefit from such lower migration cost. As such, it is necessary to ensure accountability and strengthen an inclusive monitoring system by the government and private recruiting agencies.
The government had also set a lower-level migration cost sometimes ago, but manpower recruiters did not follow it at all. If fair recruitment system does not develop, it is quite impossible to implement the officially-fixed migration cost. As of now, the workers are forced to spend from Tk 350,000 to Tk 400,000 each to go to Malaysia, which is much higher than many other countries.
The joint working group meeting also decided to allow all eligible manpower recruiting agencies to send workers to the job destination country. As Malaysia needs more workers, the country is expected to open its door for hiring workers from Bangladesh within a short time.
The Malaysian government stopped issuing demand letters for Bangladeshi workers since September 01 due to alleged syndication through the online system under the government-to-government (G2G) arrangement. About 0.2 million Bangladeshi workers had gone to Malaysia since the signing of G-to-G plus deal in 2016. Approximately 0.9 million Bangladeshi workers are now staying in Malaysia.
Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur (KL) have, in the meantime, started working on amendments to the existing G2G plus deal in recruiting workers. The Malaysian government's recent move to bring about changes in its manpower hiring policy has necessitated such amendments to the deal signed with Bangladesh two years ago.
The two countries have reportedly started scrutinising ways to delete rules from the deal that they deem unnecessary and incorporate new ones. The Malaysian government has not been issuing fresh demand letters for Bangladeshi workers since September 01 this year due to alleged syndication through the online system of' Sistem Pengambilan Pekerja Asing (SPPA) under the memorandum of understanding (MoU).
According to official statistics, over 1.0 million Bangladeshi workers got overseas jobs last year which was the highest in the country's history. Earlier, the highest number of 875,055 workers secured overseas jobs in 2008.
The growth of employment increased about 33 per cent in 2017 compared to that of the previous year. Some 757,731 workers secured jobs abroad in 2016. The maximum number of workers totalling 551,308 went to Saudi Arabia, followed by 99,787 in Malaysia and 89,074 in Oman in the calendar year 2017.
Although it is a significant achievement for the country's job sector, the government is yet to ensure 'decent and safe' migration for the workers. Workers very often fall prey to a host of intermediaries for getting jobs abroad. Besides, many of them do not get better jobs and they return home before their employment contracts expire.
However, an upward trend in migration has not put positive impact on inward remittances. A maximum number of workers went abroad with high migration cost and got engaged in hazardous jobs. The fact remains that every year a large amount of money is being laundered in the name of migration cost.
A recent report of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) said a sum of Tk 52.34 billion was laundered from Bangladesh in 2016 to seven labour receiving countries, especially Middle East, in the form of buying visas for sending workers abroad. Besides, at least 90 per cent of the total outbound male Bangladeshi workers were cheated in many ways.
It is thus necessary to put emphasis on skilled migration gradually to keep continuing the outflow of workers abroad. The demand for less-skilled workers is declining day by day.
It may be mentioned that in order to achieve the targets of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), the ministry has reportedly taken different steps to make sure of safe, orderly and regular migration. It is also providing training to overseas jobseekers lagging behind in many areas. A database of the workers is being prepared to help ensure transparency in the recruitment system.
As has been already said, migration cost in Bangladesh is reportedly one of the highest in the world. Most migrant workers borrow high-cost loans from local money lenders. But in reality, a lion's share of their earnings goes to repay the loans.
Despite many assurances, high migration cost for the jobseekers abroad could not be brought down. The manpower minister and overseas job-related state agencies have failed to reduce ever-increasing migration cost so far, putting the intending job-seekers under severe strains.
Due to irregular practice of some dishonest manpower recruiting agencies, the job-seekers are forced to spend a hefty amount of money, which is not easy for them to earn within a short time. As such, they stay for a longer time in their recruiting countries for making up the migration cost.
Analysts say it is necessary to bring manpower brokers both in labour sending and receiving countries under a legal framework, and firmly regulate operations of licensed recruiting agencies to cut migration cost for overseas jobs. They suggest that job contracts signed between the migrant workers and the employers must specifically mention their wages, and contain provisions for welfare, healthcare and other social security.
In spite of repeated demand for lowering cost of migration, the authorities have failed to rein in the situation. The government must take necessary actions so that manpower recruiters cannot charge extra cost. It should be remembered that only safe migration can help boost the country's remittance and ensure overall development of the economy.
The government needs to develop an institutional mechanism to minimise the influence of the intermediaries. If the migration cost is reduced, the economy will get better returns from remittances resulting in more investment. The government agencies should offer better institutional support for upgrading skills of overseas job-seekers and low-cost loan support for migration.
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