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Foreign worker exploitation is just the tip of the corruption iceberg

Two weeks ago, the former Home Minister, Zahid Hamidi, cropped up again in a negative light; this time involving allegations about foreign worker exploitation. Bangladesh workers hoping to work in Malaysia could only do so, after registration with a crony company.

The allegations, made on 1 November, by a Bangladesh paper are serious. They detail the scam involving anyone from Bangladesh wishing to work in Malaysia.

So, is there a similar syndicate for workers from other nations? Indonesia? Myanmar? Cambodia? Philippines? Nepal*? How large is the syndicate involved? How much did the senior politicians and their cronies make*?

The permits, which Zahid dished out in his capacity as Home Minister, have no real purpose. They do not benefit  the workers, nor their employers.

One political cynic alleged that they were carefully engineered to benefit Zahid, his family and his cronies, as a means to steal from the rakyat. The exorbitant blood money is a massive burden on the Bangladesh and the innocent Malaysian taxpayer. The only ones who gained, were the cronies and the politicians who endorsed the deal.

In which sectors are these workers involved? Are they working in plantations, construction, domestic work or are they skilled workers? Are similar syndicates operating within these sectors?

No political will to protect foreign workers

If the governments from which the workers originate are not adept in negotiation with their Malaysian counterparts, to protect their nationals, who want to work in Malaysia, then the rights of their citizens will be severely curtailed.

Look at the plight of Indonesian domestic workers. We cannot enact tough legislation to protect these women. Each time a serious injury, or death, occurs we are shocked. Why should we be? We are helpless and are consumed by apathy. We have become immune to the suffering of the domestic workers.

Synerflux, the only IT company authorised by Zahid and protected by the Official Secrets Act

The Daily Star of Bangladesh exposed the dodgy dealings of Synerflux, the only IT company which provided the online registration. Zahid designated this company as the only officially sanctioned company for anyone wanting to hire workers from Bangladesh.

Having awarded the contract to Synerflux, Zahid hid any information about the company, behind the Official Secrets Act. One can safely assume that in Najib’s regime, anything which is blanketed under the OSA must lack fairness and transparency, and warrant further investigation.

The allegations of Bangladeshi worker exploitation do not surprise us. The allegations about senior politicians and their cronies abusing the system, for their own benefit, have been known for decades; however, our concerns were dismissed. The few who continued to complain were probably threatened or prosecuted under a slew of laws.

According to The Daily Star, the allegations resurfaced only when the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition managed to overthrow Najib. In other words, there was no more protection of the main actors in the saga. Corrupt officials in Putrajaya, under Najib, had for years milked the system, because no one dared to stop them.

The Daily Star said that Najib’s government created a “manpower syndicate” which “monopolised” the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers for Malaysia. The online registration system, set-up by the Malaysian authorities, “monopolised and manipulated the recruitment process.

More details stoked the fire. Politicians and officials from both countries were complicit in worker exploitation, and anyone who wanted to work in Malaysia had to pay hefty bribes. The Malaysian home ministry received RM1,500 per worker. Just translate these to the several hundred thousand or so Bangladesh workers who were recruited, and you will understand that a few people have become multi-millionaires.

Foreign workers treated like a cash cow

The poor foreign worker was treated like a cash cow, or ATM on two legs. Human resources managers of the companies, which employed the workers would “earn” RM 1,000 per person.

Agents and sub-agents would charge the foreign workers a further RM2,500 each. The worker was bled dry, even paying the employers fees for his recruitment.

As paperwork is invariably part of the recruitment process, more money had to be dished out to Home Ministry officials, who would approve the applications.

A few years ago, Malaysians alleged that the brother of a senior politician and Cabinet member were involved in the scam. but these were quickly dismissed by the said politician.

On 30 October, the Dhaka High Court ordered the Bangladesh government to investigate this monopoly and to present its findings within six months.

In 2015, Zahid declared that worker recruitment would be farmed out to the private sector instead of going through government channels.

Although the Bangladeshis had proposed the names of 745 recruiting agencies, the officials in Malaysia chose only ten companies. There was no negotiation and the Bangladesh recruitment agencies had no choice but to accept these companies which were controlled by a Bangladesh, who had been awarded a Datukship and permanent residence in Malaysia.

Attempts by the Bangladesh association in Bangladesh to break the hold of this Datuk Bangla were unsuccessful. Why would he give up this goose that laid golden eggs, especially as it was protected by none other than the Malaysian Home Minister.

Zahid should be severely punished for his role in worker exploitation. The Datuk Bangla should be stripped of his Datukship, and his cosy arrangement with Zahid should be thoroughly investigated.


*Allegations from The Nepali Times about Nepali worker exploitation

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