Is Putrajaya's Sudden Freeze On The Intake Of Foreign Workers An 'Eyewash'?

It is IF the Bangladeshi Expatriate Ministry is to be believed.

Cover image via Najjua Zulkefl/TMI

On Friday, 19 February, a day after Malaysia inked a bilateral memorandum with Bangladesh for taking in 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi suspended the recruitment of all foreign workers, including those from Bangladesh, pending a review of the levy and rehiring programme

Announcing the decision, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the suspension would enable the Govern­ment to reconsider the revised two-tier levy for foreign workers.

“We will also focus on the ­rehiring programme for foreign workers. We will carry out enforcement to ensure that no more illegal ­foreign workers enter the country,” he said after meeting army personnel at Kem Muara Tuang here yesterday.

He also said that the government would focus on the foreign worker rehiring programme and step up enforcement to ensure that no more foreigners entered the country as workers.

"Foreign workers without valid documents or have overstayed in the country will be arrested and sent back to their country of origin," he said at a casual meeting with soldiers at the Muara Tuang Camp here.

Ahmad Zahid said enforcement against illegal foreign workers would be stepped up and implemented on a large scale in the country.

File picture shows foreign workers at a construction site in Kuala Lumpur.

Image via Yusof Mat Isa

While urging all employers to hire local workers, Zahid added that the suspension would remain in place until the Government determined the actual manpower requirements of the industries

Image via The Borneo Post

He, however, did not talk about a memorandum of understanding signed between Malaysia and Bangladesh in Dhaka on Thursday

Bangladeshi officials declined to release copies of the document but said Thursday’s memorandum stipulated that Kuala Lumpur would take in 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers over a three-year period.

Malaysian officials did not immediately say why the government was putting a freeze on incoming migrants especially after having just signed the memorandum with Bangladesh.

Responding to the news, Saiful Haque, chairman of the WARBE Development Foundation, a Bangladeshi NGO that works in migration and gives a voice to migrant workers, told BenarNews:

"What Malaysia has done is beyond diplomatic norms and decency. One minister came and signed the MoU, while another minister declares freezing of the agreement in less than 24 hours."

Furthermore, speaking to the Dhaka Tribune...

...Bangladesh Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry Acting Secretary Begum Shamsun Nahar has described the freeze as an "eyewash" by Putrajaya, adding that Bangladesh had not received any official statement from Malaysia.

"The Malaysian government has made the announcement to calm local pressure groups who are opposed to recruiting foreign workers," she was quoted as saying by the Bangladeshi newspaper.

She then expressed the belief that Putrajaya will honour the memorandum of understanding it signed with Dhaka on Thursday, just a day before it announced the moratorium, to recruit some of the 1.5 million labourers available.
Image via FMT

However, while Zahid Hamidi has chided former government leaders who accused Putrajaya of "policy flip-flop", the Deputy Prime Minister hasn't said anything more on the freeze or on the accusations made by the Bangladeshi Expatriate Ministry

On Sarawak’s decision not to recruit Bangladeshi workers for its plantation sector, Dr Ahmad Zahid said the power to take in foreign workers came under the state govern­ment, which had control over immigration.

“So we leave it to both state governments of Sarawak and Sabah to decide where to source for the workers they need because they know very well the demand of the industry (and not necessarily from Bangladesh). The two states can decide and we will endorse,” Ahmad Zahid told the media during his Chinese New Year visit to KTS Group managing director Dato Henry Lau at the latter’s residence here yesterday.

While it is true that Putrajaya has been facing resistance and criticism from several civil and trade groups over its plan to bring in the foreign workers, it is highly unlikely that the Deputy Prime Minister's announcement freezing the intake is just an "eyewash".

On the other hand, the Malaysian Trade Unions Congress (MTUC) has said that locals should be given priority for jobs. But Malaysians do not want the "3D" jobs. Read more on this, here: