The outsourcing controversy rears its head in Malaysia
In almost every country, human rights are a major concern, and the guardians of civil rights are ever ready to take to task any violation of individual rights. Look at the outsourcing scenario in Malaysia, for instance. No sooner had the Malaysian government announced its policy of using outsourcing companies to recruit Bangladeshi workers, two human rights organizations—Malaysia-based Tenaganita and the Philippines-based Migrant Forum Asia—were up in arms against the statement.
Both these organizations believe that the Malaysian policy will institutionalize and legalize human trafficking and bonded labor, charges that could prove too hot for the Malaysian government to handle.
But it is not only the policy that is under attack. Both Tenaganita and Migrant Forum Asia have also made scathing remarks against the outsourcing companies, labeling them as arrogant and exploitative enterprises that hold the workers to unjust contracts and treat them as bonded labor. It remains to be seen if the Malaysian government can work its way through this opposition and arrive at a consensus—an unlikely result in the present scenario where both parties are at loggerheads.
Recruitment of Bangladeshi Workers
Malaysian govt’s policy of outsourcing may violate labour rights
Two human rights organisations — Malaysia-based Tenaganita and the Philippines-based Migrant Forum Asia (MFA) — apprehend that the Malaysian government’s policy of using outsourcing companies to recruit Bangladeshi workers would violate basic labour standards and rights.
Recruitment agencies in Bangladesh also expressed similar views privately but declined to go on record.
State Minister for Expatriates’ Welfare Lutfur Rahman Khan Azad and Secretary General of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira) Ali Haider avoided questions on this issue at a ‘face-to- face’ programme organised by an NGO at the Jatiya Press Club on Sunday.
Outsourcing firms supply workers to companies or employers that require them and make all payments to these (outsourcing) firms, which have no responsibilities to the workers.
In the absence of any protective mechanism, the system will only make Malaysia a country that institutionalises and legalises human trafficking and bonded labour, Tenaganita said in a statement recently.
Endorsing Tenaganita’s views, the MFA in a statement demanded an immediate halt to implementation of this recruitment process.
The MFA is a network of over 260 migrant workers associations, trade unions and migrants’ rights bodies in Asia.
The statements came in the wake of Malaysia’s withdrawal of restrictions on recruitment of workers from Bangladesh after about a decade, and its decision that recruitment would be made by 139 approved outsourcing firms.
Manpower recruiting agencies in Dhaka said about five lakh workers could be sent to Malaysia in 2 to 3 years.
“Outsourcing labour creates a condition of a very deregulated and unprotected form of labour. The Malaysian government, by developing such a policy, institutionalises bonded labour,” said Tenaganita in its statement signed by its Director Dr Irene Fernandez.
This form of recruitment and employment of poverty-ridden migrant workers from countries like Bangladesh, for profit maximisation and unprotected employment, is inhuman, it said.
The statement mentioned that this year alone, Tenaganita received complaints from migrant workers involving 15 outsourcing firms that many of them were neither paid nor had jobs after less than two months of being sent to a company to work.
Ten of the firms refused to send back the workers but demanded from them payment for the levy and work permit and held their passports. These workers were then forced into all forms of work, Tenaganita said. “One worker, under an outsourcing firm, had to work in a furniture company, then in a plantation and a scrap metal company only in a span of three months with no wages.”
Another company, Bebaka used gangsters to beat up 42 workers, took all their money when they asked for their wages. The company held passports of all the workers. After this incident, the workers out of sheer fear went back to work.
It was a problem for the workers to seek police protection as they did not have their passports.
Violent behaviour of the management of these companies with the workers is ‘only a small reflection of the highly exploitative form of labour management’, the statement said.
It is unclear who will be responsible in cases of unpaid wages, dismissal or accidents at workplace, or who will be made accountable for violation of rights of the workers, it pointed out.
“The work permit issued will hold the name of the outsourcing firm. Thus, will the courts define the outsourcing firms as employers who in real terms are not the employers? But the employment act defines otherwise. The worker remains in a dilemma.”
The statement said the companies that use the labour will therefore escape compliance with legal rights enshrined in labour laws, Employment Act, Industrial Relations Act and Trade Union Act. Even in cases of health hazards and accidents at work, the employers can run away from responsibility,
Tenaganita views these firms as arrogant and exploitative, who treat the workers like slaves and bonded labour, the statement added.
The MFA said in its statement, “More often than not, migrant workers are subjected to unjust and unfair employment contracts that force them to work long hours at near-poverty level wages in slave-like working conditions,”
Hiring workers through offshore recruitment agencies abrogates the responsibilities of the employers and the Malaysian government, it said. “Such a policy gives the impression that Malaysia promotes slave labour.”
The Malaysian government should sit with civil society groups in that country to formulate a better way of recruiting migrant workers and ensuring their core labour standards, the MFA stressed.