PETALING JAYA: A labour rights activist said Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s call to not use agents to hire foreign workers might be ill-advised, as the real issue lies elsewhere.
Adrian Pereira of North-South Initiative (NSI) said the real issue lies in the recruitment process, which starts with the involvement of “sub-agents” in the country of origin of these migrant workers.
“These sub-agents are part of a larger syndicate of many actors who demand a piece of the recruitment cost. This has gotten out of control. They are not on the radar,” he told FMT.
Pereira said the sub-agents dictate and broker what fees need to be paid, holding the migrant worker and the agent at “ransom”.
Pereira said Malaysia needs a comprehensive law or agreement with the migrant workers country to clearly define and cap recruitment fees.
At the same time, he said there was a need for Malaysia to update laws and bilateral agreements in line with the International Labour Organization (ILO) principles to ensure recruitment costs were not passed back to workers.
Pereira said the government should streamline all migrant worker applications under the human resources ministry instead of the home ministry.
“This alone could solve 90% of the forced labour problems,” he said. “It is not late for the Anwar administration to do so.”
There should also be no conflict of interest among bureaucrats, or politicians with a special interest in recruitment companies.
“Mismanagement in the various ministries and the privatisation of services are the cause of failures here, as there is someone always profiteering,” he said.
Migrant activist Andy Hall said another reason for the high recruitment cost is the “commission fees” charged by intermediaries in Malaysia for flight costs, hotel stays and leisure activities for agents at the source country being passed off to the incoming migrant worker.
“If the new administration doesn’t regulate the agencies, employers and third parties, extortion will be rampant and the risks of forced labour from debt bondage will increase,” he said.
“What’s important is to stop the payments of commission or bribes to Malaysian human resource staff, agents and recruitment intermediaries by source country agents or other intermediaries.”
Employers should insist on recruitment agencies overseas being transparent, so only the ethical and professional ones are used to hire workers.