KUALA LUMPUR, June 20 — The arbitrary 25-firm limit on agencies recruiting Bangladeshi labour for Malaysia would create the monopolistic environment that Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan claimed the move was meant to prevent, said two rights group and a senior lawmaker.

Rejecting the minister’s latest attempt to explain the limit, Beyond Borders president Mahi Ramakrishnan said she was shocked Saravanan had asserted that the decision was to avoid a monopoly that previously resulted in ill-treatment of foreign workers.

“This (limitation to only 25 agencies) is in itself a monopoly. It diminishes competition and increases the possibility of exploitation and abuse and not the other way around as argued by the minister. It’s common sense.

“Saravanan has also said his ministry is set to recruit another 250 companies which the agencies would be solely responsible for.

“This is shocking because not only does it take monitoring responsibilities away from his ministry, it would also be disastrous.

“How could the 25 labour agencies be the watchdog?” asked the refugee rights activist, who has been pushing for refugees and undocumented migrants to be allowed into the workforce as a solution for the current lack of workers in several Malaysian industries.

Yesterday, Bernama quoted Saravanan as saying that another 250 companies will be accredited by the Ministry of Human Resources (MoHR), to work within a recruitment ecosystem with the selected 25 Bangladeshi agencies.

He also said the selected 25 agencies would have the “sole responsibility” of overseeing the other 250 regarding meeting set standards and guidelines.

His ministry would closely monitor and guarantee that the 25 will adhere to International Labour Organisation (ILO) worker welfare guidelines, Saravanan explained.

Adrian Pereira, founder of North-South Initiative — a rights based non-governmental organisation — said that if Saravanan were genuine about preventing a monopoly, it would be better for a recruitment system to be set up purely between the governments of both countries.

“This is what we have been asking, and what we think would bring human rights abuses to a minimum.

“When there is no even basic transparency, Saravanan cannot claim that later MoHR is going to follow up and monitor that the 25 agencies meet ILO standards. All of that has to be done from the drawing board itself,” he said.

“The companies will have to hire a human resource manager, who will then have to speak to a Malaysian agent, that Malaysian agent will have to go to these 25 agencies, and the 25 will have to go to the other 250.

“Not to mention, you will have all the government bureaucracies in between.

“The whole chain is so long, how do we monitor susceptibilities to corruption?” Adrian added.

In a statement today, Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P. Ramasamy questioned if Malaysian employers were aware of the secrecy behind the recruitment process and potential increase of labour costs due to the policy update.

“The excluded companies are aggrieved that the syndicated option of 25 agencies means that labour cost of recruitment will increase to four or five times the present cost of RM5,900 per worker.

“In other words, labour costs will dramatically increase for employers in Malaysia. However, knowing the employers, the cost will be transferred to the workers themselves,” he said.

“One thing is sure, Malaysia might not be moving away from forced labour but reinforcing its pervasive existence,” added the Perai assemblyman.

Previously, on June 16, Saravanan claimed that Dhaka and Putrajaya had jointly agreed to a limit of 25 agencies to recruit Bangladeshi workers for Malaysia, adding that it was the prerogative of the source country to decide on how many agencies should be approved to recruit workers for foreign countries.

The next day, however, The Business Post reported Bangladesh’s Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad as saying that neither he nor the republic’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina had approved the recruitment companies.

Imran added that the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by both Bangladesh and Malaysia did not mention anything about 25 agencies.

Saravanan has been under pressure to explain the 25-firm limit after it was alleged that these would be part of a syndicate linked to a Malaysian businessman.