Malaysia to review migrant labour deals to stamp out exploitation

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia will review bilateral agreements with 15 nations from which it sources labourers in a bid to address exploitative practices and manpower imbalances that have left thousands of migrant workers stranded without jobs, officials said.

Since last year, thousands of migrants, mostly from Bangladesh and Nepal, have been left in limbo after arriving in Malaysia, where they were told that jobs promised to them in exchange for steep recruitment fees were no longer available.

The plight of the migrants coincided with concerns over workplace abuses in Malaysia, with several companies facing U.S. bans over the use of forced labour in recent years. Many labourers said they had not been paid any wages.

Speaking to reporters late on Tuesday, the labour and home affairs ministers said the distribution of labourers was uneven across the economy, prompting a need to review the bilateral agreements.

They said Malaysia still had a shortage of workers in the agriculture and plantations sector, while quotas have been exceeded in other industries.

“We will revisit the agreements looking at various elements including fees, costs, contract conditions, health and so on,” Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said, adding that the government would allow the transfer of worker quotas across sectors.

Workers from Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nepal account for over 70% of Malaysia’s migrant labour, with the remainder coming from countries including India, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Thailand.

Human Resources Minister Steven Sim said authorities had completed investigations into five firms involved in hiring hundreds of workers who later found themselves without jobs.

He said employers who hired such workers must pay them wages even though they do not have jobs, adding that companies and individuals who violate the law will be barred from hiring migrant labourers.

Sim said 751 Bangladesh migrant workers had filed cases with the labour department to claim unpaid wages, involving a total of 2.2 million ringgit ($467,687).

($1 = 4.7040 ringgit)

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; editing by Miral Fahmy)