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ATimes: KL Under Fire For Ban On Bangladeshis
By Anil Netto

28/2/2001 6:23 am Wed

[Ada banyak sebab pekerja Bangladesh dan filipina tidak lagi diizinkan untuk berada dinegara ini. Tetapi perenggan terakhir menceritakan sesuatu yang pihak terbabit amat mahir...

Perhatikan dianggarkan ada 100,000 pekerja Bangladesh dan 900,000 pekerja asing yang berdaftar. Bayangkan seorang pekerja Bangladesh membayar RM5,000 banyaknya kepada agen untuk tiba ke sini. Ini menggambarkan betapa lumayannya pendapatan agen - malah lebih lumayan dari syarikat 'travel agent' (agen melancung) rasmi. Tentu ramai yang berkongsi wang sebanyak ini kerana tidak banyak kes masuk tak berpermit dilapurkan di media hari ini. Mereka 'ditemui' selepas berada beberapa ketika di negara ini, khususnya ketika musim kontraktor membayar gaji... atau sebelum musim membayar gaji. Ada pihak yang untung pada musim-musim sebegini.... - Editor]

Source: Asia Times
27th February 2001

Kuala Lumpur under fire for ban on Bangladeshis

By Anil Netto

PENANG, Malaysia - Malaysia's decision, made public this month, to stop employers from recruiting Bangladeshi migrant workers means the country will turn to other Asian countries for cheap labor.

The government has already signed recent agreements with Nepal and Myanmar to take in workers from there as semi-skilled and unskilled labor, as migrant workers from countries like the Philippines and Bangladesh demand higher pay, critics say.

The government's line of thinking seems to be that migrant workers, especially those from Bangladesh, are disrupting the social fabric by marrying Malaysian women. But rights groups like Tenaganita say that the government has singled out Bangladeshi workers - of which there are 100,000 working in Malaysia - because they have increasingly been asserting their rights to better pay and working conditions.

A freeze was also put on Filipino workers, most of whom work in Malaysia as domestic workers, after they demanded higher pay in 1999 amid the economic crisis. The numbers of Filipino domestic workers have been falling after the crackdown on migrant workers after the economic crisis and as their wages have risen, Aegile Fernandez, coordinator of the migrant desk at Tenaganita, told a seminar on migration in Bangkok on Friday.

In the case of the Bangladeshi workers, Home Ministry secretary-general Aseh Che Mat, who says the government imposed the ban on hiring workers from Bangladesh in late January, says many Bangladeshis had resorted to "marriages of convenience" with locals to stay on in the country. "Some go on to have children. This often leads to many refusing to return to Bangladesh after their working permits expire," he said.

Not so, says Abdul M, a Bangladeshi garbage collector in a condominium complex, who asked to remain anonymous. "Among my circle of friends, hardly any have got involved with local women," he said in fluent Malay, pulling a garbage cart behind him.

But a human resources manager of a five-star hotel in Penang says she has seen many Bangladeshi workers hanging around flats where female Malay-Muslim factory workers are housed. "It's a mini-Hat Yai out there," she said of the area, drawing a parallel to a town in southern Thailand, popular among Malaysian men for its nightlife and seedy bars. "The Bangladeshi guys are pretty good-looking and a lot of our local Malay factory girls, who work side-by-side with them, are crazy about them [the Bangladeshi males]," she observed

Some trade unionists, who see foreign workers pulling down the wages market, regard the move to bar Bangladeshi workers as positive. "The immigrant labor was actually contributing to a lot of undercutting of wages," said A Navamukundan, executive secretary of the National Union of Plantation Workers. "There are a lot of problems managing them - a lot of social problems because they are single males," he added.

That is ironic, because many believe officials allowed Indonesians and Bangladeshis, who are largely Muslim, to enter the country because they could better assimilate into this mainly Muslim society. Many Bangladeshis toil at building sites, in plantations and in the service sector in Malaysia. Officially, the country has some 900,000 foreign workers but undocumented workers could double this figure.

Aseh said thousands of Bangladeshis are working illegally in the country. "They now work with syndicates and forge documents to extend their stay in the country," he said. "Some even go to the extent of starting their own business with forged documents."

Few in Malaysia are sympathetic with the plight of Bangladeshi workers, most of whom have had to sell property or take out loans in order to work in Malaysia. Migrant workers are often viewed as a source of petty crime, social disruption, and health problems. Often, media reports tend to "blame migrant workers or carry sensational news about them" and in the process criminalize them, even as economic demand for their services persists, Fernandez said.

Few Malaysians know how hard it is for Bangladeshis like Abdul, who said, 'I had to pay about 5,000 ringgit (US$1,316) to the recruiting agent in Bangladesh so that I could come here."

That is a princely sum in Bangladesh, but many Bangladeshi males, including college graduates, jump at the chance to escape unemployment at home. Many hope to repay their loans and save money in Malaysia. But despite the contracts they signed in Bangladesh, they find that their salaries are lower than promised and have to work long hours of overtime to repay their debts back home.

Murthi, a factory manager in Penang, says the multinational firm he works for refuses to hire foreign workers. "We have to go through these recruiting agents, but how genuine are these agents," he complains. "That's one of our main concerns - there are a lot of cases where Bangladeshi workers have been cheated." Murthi says many local employers often bully their Bangladeshi workers, making them slog long hours and providing them overcrowded accommodation.

Though many big multinational firms would rather not employ foreign workers because of the messy paperwork and other problems, many of these firms engage external contractors for general labor work. These contractors are the ones who hire the foreign workers.

Others say that Bangladeshis are being barred because they are now more aware of their rights, and because the Bangladesh government has become more assertive as well.

Only Filipinos currently have contracts for domestic workers that are verified and recorded by the Philippine embassy. Filipino domestic workers are considered among the higher-paid migrant workers - their pay is around 600 ringgit a month, but Indonesians get 350 ringgit for the same work. Fernandez says this highlights the country's search for cheaper labor for jobs the locals shirk, a situation not helped by the fact that migrant-worker jobs like domestic work are not covered by the country's employment act.

Fernandez told the news website Malaysiakini recently that with Malaysia's new freeze on Bangladeshi workers, "the employers can then pay these new migrant workers the low pay that they used to pay Bangladeshi workers when the latter group first came to Malaysia".

"Besides racial discrimination [against Bangladeshis], the other reason why they have asked the bosses to stop hiring Bangladeshi workers is that the agents can once again make money when they set up agencies in Nepal and Myanmar to recruit workers," she said.