Malaysiakini 17th Feb 2023: ‘Don’t vilify us, illegal Malaysian recruitment agencies to blame,’ manpower agents’ federation claims (with some of my comments)
Original source: https://m.malaysiakini.com/news/655273
The below article on the vilifying of Malaysian (or similarly source country) manpower agencies by Malaysian politicians and employers that has been evidenced recently is useful.
As one of the root causes of the terrible migrant worker management situation in Malaysia is systemic corruption and poor policy planning (see also my Op Ed perspective Time to Address Corruption in Malaysia’s Migrant Worker Management at https://andyjhall.wordpress.com/2023/02/13/feb-13th-2023-my-perspective-published-by-fmt-time-to-address-corruption-in-malaysias-migrant-worker-management/).
The root cause of all these migrant management problems is not the manpower agencies per se, as they are simply the vehicles for this systemic corruption that continues to exist in this area of life and industry in Malaysia.
But at the same time, in reality, most of the more responsible, risk adverse and compliant, more respectable Malaysian employers these days are not utilizing Malaysian (regular or irregular) manpower agencies or intermediaries as they are notoriously difficult to control and too high risk.
Even the legal Malaysian manpower agencies continue to extort and overcharge and cheat their clients AND the workers AND the source country manpower agencies too.
Some of these employers or companies now most effectively go direct to the source country to recruit foreign workers via legally registered manpower agencies at source alone, less intermediaries involved and therefore less risk of abuse.
Most source country regulations mean a source country manpower agencies needs to be used (whereas Malaysian law doesn’t mandate a Malaysian manpower agency is used – see *Direct recruitment illegal in source countries, say employment association* https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2023/02/880145/direct-recruitment-illegal-source-countries-say-employment-association).
However, the systemic corruption in Malaysia’s migrant worker system means many of these same companies also continue to use these agencies or intermediaries, even if only on paper and not in practice, and for housing and regularisation of workers and transport issues, so they can safely and more comfortable avoid complicity in the systemic corruption.
NEWS: *Don’t vilify us, illegal Malaysian recruitment agencies to blame – Pusma*
Published: Feb 16, 2023
Worker recruitment agencies have told the government not to vilify them as they are registered and comply with the Private Employment Agencies Act 1981 (Act 246).
National Association of Human Resources (Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Sumber Manusia Malaysia – Pusma) president Zarina Ismail said the poor enforcement of Act 246 resulted in a mushrooming of agencies not registered with the Human Resources Ministry.
These illegal agencies are the ones giving legitimate agencies a bad reputation, she said.
“Act 246 clearly states that the recruitment of local or migrant workers can only be carried out by companies registered with he ministry, but unfortunately, this is a little-known fact even among lawmakers.
“I urge Human Resources Minister V Sivakumar to publicise the importance of this law for all employers to engage only with registered employment agencies.
“And please stop attacking employment agencies as if they were the root cause of the problem,” Zarina said.
National Association of Human Resources (Pusma) president Zarina Ismail
Zarina spoke to Malaysiakini in response to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s announcement last week for the migrant worker recruitment process to bypass agencies in Malaysia.
Anwar made the announcement after a cabinet meeting and said going through agents results in higher recruitment fees, which leads to modern slavery.
Last year, the then-human resources minister M Saravanan also urged employers to apply for migrant workers directly with the source countries instead of engaging recruitment agencies.
Registered vs illegal agencies
Zarina said the government should not disparage the 997 recruitment companies registered with the Human Resources Ministry.
She pointed out that registered agencies have placed bonds ranging from RM5,000 to RM250,000 for each licence, adding that the ministry would have raised about RM173 million in bonds from the 997 agencies.
“The companies are under strict scrutiny by the ministry and stand to lose portions of their funds if found to be flouting the law,” she said.
Attesting to the reliability of registered agencies was Indonesia’s recognition of them in its worker recruitment system.
“In the memorandum of understanding on the recruitment and employment of Indonesian domestic workers signed last year, all employers must only engage with registered employment agencies to carry out the recruitment process.
“This is mainly because these agencies are statutorily bound to ensure the safety of each worker. And to do so, they carry out checks on workers’ welfare, ensure they are paid in a timely manner and their labour rights are met.
“The ministry is empowered by law to take action against these agencies if they fail to carry out their duties, which include a detailed report every three months on each recruit,” Zarina explained.
The law also has provisions to prosecute unregistered companies carrying out any recruitment of local or migrant workers, with jail time and hefty fines for those convicted.
Under Section 7 of the Private Employment Agencies Act, illegal agencies face fines of up to RM200,000 and/or a jail term not exceeding three years.
Meanwhile, Section 21 of the Act grants the Labour Department director-general and any authorised labour officer all the powers of a police officer to carry out enforcement, inspection and investigations.
Zarina said many illegal agencies go unchecked and have been operating for many years without a licence.
Philippines’ low labour violations
Zarina said the Philippines had long since set the same strict standard on Malaysian employers.
“The Philippines has been able to keep labour violations against its citizens low with the strict practice of recruitment into any sector only through registered agencies.
“But they go one step further with the embassy giving accreditation to these employment agencies and of the 997, only 139 of these agencies have passed their scrutiny and are able to engage in recruiting workers from the Philippines.
“The country does not have a bilateral agreement with Malaysia but they will not allow its citizens to leave without a calling visa from the receiving country,” she explained.
This was a practice some countries had not adopted, she said.
Zarina attributed the high number of labour violations experienced by Indonesian, Bangladeshi and Nepali workers to the lack of supervision of their welfare.
“Apart from the Labour Department, the registered agencies that have placed workers at worksites have the authority to carry out checks on their safety and welfare,” she explained.
Malaysia’s poor migrant management
Stakeholders have attributed Malaysia’s poor migrant recruitment process to the often-strained coordination between ministries sharing this portfolio – the Human Resources Ministry and the Home Ministry.
Repeated calls for the government to park migrant recruitment under a single ministry have fallen on deaf ears.
Last year, Malaysian employers faced long, unexplained delays in recruitment quote approvals, with little to no transparency on the recruitment process.
This led to the decision to relax the compliance criteria for employers this year and a promise from Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail of a speedy recruitment process of fewer than 30 days.
After Saifuddin labelled the Home Ministry as the “main custodian” for migrant worker management, once again the two ministries sent mixed messages on the issue.
In contrast, Sivakumar pledged that approvals would not be hastened in the spirit of observing the 12th Malaysia Plan not to exceed 2.4 million migrant workers.
The elusive Jakrim
Zarina expressed disappointment over the government’s reluctance to adopt recommendations made by the Independent Committee on the Management of Foreign Workers.
The committee’s recommendations were submitted to the Pakatan Harapan government in 2019. However, its findings were embargoed.
The MACC chief at the time, Latheefa Koya, observed that the recruitment of migrant workers should be under the Human Resources Ministry to combat corruption and exploitation of workers.
Latheefa pointed out at the time that the Home Ministry’s policy allowed worker exploitation and that the Human Resources Ministry could do a better job by accurately assessing the demand for migrant workers in various sectors.
Amid the vague and opaque recruitment process touted by the two ministries, Zarina said many employers and recruitment agencies were frequently confused.
Adding to the long wait for approvals was a little-known committee in the Immigration Department – the Immigration Appeals Committee, also known as Jakrim (Jawatankuasa Rayuan Imigresen Malaysia).
This committee sits at the final stage of approvals – vetting unique applications for migrant domestic workers such as Muslim employers hiring Christians.
Zarina said the committee’s meeting schedule was not fixed and decisions were not transparent.
“We don’t know when Jakrim will meet and no explanation is offered for rejected applications.
“Sometimes, they take more than two months to revert and the validity of the (migrant workers’) medical tests in the home country would have lapsed.
“We will incur additional cost to run a second medical test,” Zarina added, pointing out how such delays created room for corruption when employers are forced to seek other ways to speed up their applications.