Unheard Voices Of
"Orang Bangla" In Malaysia
By Md. Saidul Islam,
Mazharul Hoque, Delwar Hossain & Kazi Shahadat Kabir
20 October, 2006
No country's development is uniquely
because of its own, but rather contingent upon contributions from different
sources. One of the sources is the cheap foreign labors. Bangladeshi
labor migrants, locally known as "Orang Bangla" albeit in
a derogatory sense, continue to serve Malaysia to perpetuate its status
as an "economic tiger" in Asia. It is assumed that there are
around 350,000 Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia (Iran Daily Aug. 01,
2006). Workers range from unskilled working in manufacturing, construction
and plantation to highly skilled ones including top engineers in constructing
PETRONAS towers, an icon of Malaysia's miraculous development. Estimates
show that workers spend around 80% of their income in Malaysia, and
thereby contribute to, and keep revitalizing, local economy.
Apart from Bangladeshi workers
in different development sectors, there are more than 30,000 Bangladeshi
students studying in Malaysia , a great education market for Malaysian
universities. Reports also show that so far 1,088 Bangladeshis, second
top next to Chinese, applied for "The Malaysia My Second Home"
programme, and each candidate will deposit 3,000,000 Malaysian Ringgit
(RM) to Malaysian government (The New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur, August,
18, 2006). Malaysian government also expects to have more than 20,000
Bangladeshi travelers in the year 2006. All these indicate how Bangladeshis
are, apart from being greatly benefited, an integral part of Malaysia's
Different research show,
however, that migrant workers have contributed to the remarkable economic
success, but are hardly ever mentioned in analyses of this "miracle
economy". Due to economic restructuring and the economic downturns,
migrants are increasingly treated as scapegoats for all kinds of problems
Malaysia is facing. Bangladeshi workers who came to Malaysia with a
view to looking for brighter future, are mostly from poor economic and
educational background, and not aware of employment procedure and conditions.
As a result, they are prone to agents' and employers' exploitation.
Based on our ethnographic fieldwork, the followings are some of the
hurdles they confront:
(a) The First Shock in Malaysia:
Upon arrival in Malaysia, many Bangladeshi workers found a difference
between what they were promised, and what they actually get in Malaysia.
Sometimes, they had to sign a new agreement where salaries were lower
than the promised ones, and other facilities stated in the original
contracts were not honored. Some cases were found in which recruitment
agencies provided workers with work permits to work in companies that
do not exist at all, and therefore were deported from airport, or sent
to detention centres. According to media reports, a majority of those
who have stayed for months in the camps were frail, weak, unnourished
and in panic.
(b) Working Hours and Overtime: Despite working for 9 hours (basic is
8 hours), many workers are not paid for the extra hour they work. The
situation is even worse in many constructions sites and fast-food restaurants.
According to Malaysia Employment Act, "Every employee shall be
entitled to a paid holiday at his ordinary rate of pay on ten gazetted
public holidays in one calendar year". However, some employers
did not allow their workers to enjoy the public holidays. Moreover,
some companies do not pay them their due salaries on time and no payment-slip
is given to the workers.
(c) Extra Benefit and Living
Conditions: Unlike domestic workers, foreign workers are, in many cases,
bereft of many facilities and benefits, while both have to be treated
equally as Malaysian and International Labor Law prescribes. The Malaysian
Charter on Human Rights (December 1994), articles 8, mentioned, "Foreign
workers should have access to all basic amenities, fair working conditions,
a just and equal wage, a safe working environment and a channel to redress
discriminations and exploitation", however many of these are compromised
in case of Bangladesh workers, especially when they are paid lower than
their local counterparts.
(d) Payment for Work Permit, Levy, and EPF: For work-permit and levy,
each Bangladeshi worker has to pay between RM 2,300 to 3,000 a year.
On the top of these, each has to pay 11 percent of their salaries to
Employment Provident Fund (EPF). Paying all these as well other living
costs in Malaysia leave them with a very little or no saving. Workers
can claim their EPF money after their work tenure; however, as they
reported, harsh rules, bureaucratic complexity and long procedures make
it almost uncertain for them to get money.
(e) Harassment by Police
and Local Thugs: The fear of police and local thugs is very common among
Bangladeshi workers. Despite having legal documents, some Bangladeshi
workers complained, they face harassment from police. Sometimes they
are sent to detention camp without contacting the employers. In many
instances, police catch these legal workers and fine them RM 50, RM
30, or even RM 10 without providing any receipt. There is a saying among
the Bangladeshi workers that the thugs are coming for a "Slap,
Threat and RM 10"; (So, give them RM 10 before getting the slap
and threat). There are many incidents in which number Bangladeshi workers
were punched, beaten up, robbed and even killed.
(f) Compensation and Treatment: Some Bangladeshi workers lost valuable
parts of their bodies while working, but no compensation was given to
them. Md. Foiz Ahmad working in Trakuma Company, Shah Alam lost his
two fingers while working, but did not get any insurance or compensation.
When he asked for insurance, he was deported to Bangladesh immediately.
Another worker in Meru area lost one of his eyes while working in a
timber industry. He was also denied any compensation. Many employers
ignored this provision of insurance and there was gross negligence of
safety precaution at workplace.
Despite undergoing dire exploitation, the so called "Orang Bangla"
do not have any forum to voice their concerns out. They are not allowed
to form any trade union for their collective interest. The Bangladesh
High Commission in Malaysia is earning a huge revenue, but less responsive
in addressing the problems of Bangladeshi workers. After long lapse,
Malaysia is set to resume manpower import from Bangladesh with the recruitment
of some 50,000 skilled and unskilled workers starting this month, which
is again vital for both countries' economy. Both Malaysia and Bangladesh
should come forward, with mutual recognition and respect, to addressing
the issues of concerns in order to consolidate a solid friendship and
mutual cooperation, crucial for both countries' economic interest.
* The research is based on an ethnographic field work done by Md. Saidul
Islam (currently in Toronto ), Mazharul Hoque (now New York), Delwar
Hossain (New York), and Kazi Shahadat Kabir (currently in Malaysia).
Comments can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Md. Saidul Islam
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