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Subject: GAMA: Bangladeshi Workers in Penang: People or commodities?
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DATE: October 4, 1995
HEAD: Bangladeshi Workers in the Textile Industry in Penang: People or Commodities?
AUTHOR: Anja Rudnick

Bangladeshi workers in the textile industry in Penang: People or commodities?

By Anja Rudnick, Amsterdam, in Global Alternative Media Newsletter,
4 October, 1995

As a student of the University of Amsterdam and affiliated to the University of Malaya, I studied the textile and garment industry in the state of Penang, Malaysia between January-March and September-December 1994. The main focus was on developments in the sector and the effects on the labour force as a consequence of a rapidly changing (inter)national economy. We also looked into the working conditions and wages of the Bangladeshi workers, who recently are playing an important role in filling the labourgaps of the textile and garment sector as will be discussed in this paper.

Although the Malaysian textile and garment industry is small compared to other major producers in Asia, the sector is the second largest export earner of manufactured products in Malaysia. Textiles and garments contributed 6,742 million Ringgit (1 ringgit = 0.40 US$) in export earnings to the Malaysian economy in 1993. According to the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority there are about 120,000 people working in this sector. But according to some managers and academics, if the unregistered smaller factories are included, the labour force might be as high as 200,000.

Whilst the export earnings of the sector are still growing and it still is contributing substantially to Malaysia's economy, it has been facing some problems over the few years. Due to Malaysia's booming economy, economic activities are increasing dramatically and as a result, labour costs have increased. The textile and garment sector (short: textile sector) is now confronted with stiff competition from surrounding low labour cost countries like Indonesia.

Our study in Penang showed that although competition is a serious obstacle, the most serious problem the sector is facing right now is a labour shortage. Many new factories in all sectors, but especially in electronics, are opening up and at the same time government activities are increasing. All sectors are competing for labour. The textile industry is characterised as a sector with low wages and poor working conditions. Consequently, workers opt for better jobs if they get a chance.

It was discovered that a majority of textile and garment companies successfully solve this problem by employing Bangladeshi workers on a large scale. Out of the 16, both big and small textile and garment companies which were studied, only 3 employed no Bangladeshis or other foreign labour. The labour force of the other 13 companies included between 15 and 50% Bangladeshi workers. Some subcontractors employed even higher percentages of Bangladeshi workers. These thirteen companies employed approximately 7,700 people, 1,755 of whom were from Bangladesh, and 60 of whom were Indonesian.

It is hard to estimate the total number of Bangladeshis who are working in the textile industry. No figures are available. But as this study revealed, Bangladeshis are more the rule than the exception in the textile industry. Even the most established companies which weren't yet employing Bangladeshis during the course of the study, are now considering this option. A government official stated that sooner or later all companies will rely on foreign labour to a certain extent. As one manager put it: "Without the foreign workers the factory would just have to close"

1. Bangladeshis in Malaysia

Malaysia is said to have the highest number of migrant workers in Asia. Officially there are about 1 million migrants, but if one includes illegal migrant workers figures range between 1 and 3 million out of a population of about 18 million people. Two-thirds of the migrants are said to be from Indonesia.

Bangladeshi workers reportedly first came to Malaysia in 1986, when they were employed in rubber, palm oil and tea plantations. In 1991, the Malaysian government decided to allow employers to recruit foreign labour in certain manufacturing industries in order to overcome the labour shortage and Bangladeshis moved into the manufacturing sector. The governments of both countries strengthened their ties and the migration flows increased and became more regular. Now, Bangladeshis are employed in plantations, pump stations, restaurants, construction and certain manufacturing industries.

Officially, there are 67,000 Bangladeshis in Malaysia, but different sources confirm that with illegal Bangladeshis included, there could be at least 200,000 (Government official of Bangladesh embassy). Most illegals come via Thailand to Malaysia, and are mainly concentrated in the Northern region of the country. These workers are very vulnerable, and often badly paid. Unfortunately, what is known about the legal workers isn't much more promising. They come on a two year contract, all have paid fees as high as 5,000-9,000 Malaysian Ringgit (RM). Despite the fact that they have been promised good wages before coming to Malaysia, they often end up in small factories earning wages as low as 250-300 RM a month (The Sun, 08-01-1995). Although there are a few females in certain sectors like the textile industry, most of the migrants are male.

In Bangladesh, about one-third of the labourforce is unemployed. It is quite common that workers try to find work abroad. Coincidentally, Malaysia opened up its borders at a time when it became more difficult to enter the Middle East, an important destination of Bangladeshi migrants. Economic growth in the Gulf states slowed down, and less foreign labour was needed. In 1994, Malaysia has officially agreed with the Bangladeshi government to recruit 50,000 skilled and semiskilled workers every year, including doctors and nurses (The Sun, 08-01-1995).

2. Five factories under examination

Since Bangladeshis play such an important role in the labour supply of the textile industry, a closer look into the payments and working conditions of Bangladeshi workers was necessary. The author held interviews and group discussions with about 45 workers from five different factories in the homes of the migrant workers in the state of Penang at the end of 1994.

Five different factories were studied, since treatment and salaries of Bangladeshi workers might differ from one factory to another. The factories under question differ in type, and are not connected to each other. Two, a sweatshop and a small branch of an established local company, are at the lower end of the subcontracting chain; one is a middle-to-large Malaysian company; and two are well-established textile subsidiaries of Transnational Corporations (TNCs). Working conditions and wages are normally said to be worse in sweatshops and small factories and in less established companies.

To guarantee the safety of the workers and respect the co-operation of the managers, no names will be given. According to information taken from the directory of the Malaysian Textile Manufacturing Association and the managers of the companies themselves, the following can be said about the factories under study:

 Factory 1Factory 2Factory 3 Factory 4 Factory 5
Producing:garmentsgarmentsgarmentsyarnknitted fabric
Type of factory sweatshop, subcontractor of established companies small branch of an established firmmain branch of an established firmsubsidiary of a Japanese TNCsubsidiary of a Hong Kongese TNC
total number of workers15 workers35 workers150 workers600 workers 1000 work
foreign workers8 Banglad. 5 (illegal) Indonesian girls15 Bangl. 52 Bangl. 100 Bangl. (50 are female) 400 Bangl.

All Bangladeshis are legal. In factory 4, half of the Bangladeshis are female, in the other factories all are male. In this study only male workers were involved.

3. Managements and their Bangladeshi workers

Apart from factory 2, the managements of all of these factories were interviewed. All of them showed satisfaction with the Bangladeshi workers who had solved their labour shortage problems. In some instances, there were some communication problems in the beginning, but these were overcome quickly, as some of the workers picked up some words Bahasa Malaysia and others spoke reasonably good English.

The owner of factory 1 faces great difficulties in finding local workers. "Local workers are fussy" she said. "They want to have this and that, they never stay longer then a few weeks." She is satisfied with the Bangladeshi workers who have been there for 1.5 years and wants them to stay for another three years. The company has applied for another batch of 15 Bangladeshi workers. Recently, there have also been five (illegal) Indonesian women working in the factory. "Without foreign workers, many factories would have to close," according to the owner. "The economy would get weaker." Bangladeshi workers are very important for factory 3. "Actually", a manager stated, "they work better than the locals, they are harder working". The management of this firm is worried about the fact that the two year period will soon be over. But if the workers themselves agree, the contract will he prolonged, and applications for new batches of workers will be sent in. Out of the 600 workers the company is employing in its three factories, 300 are Bangladeshis.

The management of factory 4 is satisfied with the foreign workers, although this is not regarded as a long-term solution to the shortage of labour. Rather automation is seen as the answer. But for now, a manager confirmed that "without the foreign workers the factory would have to close". The Bangladeshis have been there for the past year and one half.

The Bangladeshi workers in factory 5 solved the high turnover rates of the company. About 40% of the workers are from Bangladesh. Increasing the number of foreign workers is not possible due to government quotas, nor is this desired by the management. If the group of foreign workers is too large, social unrest is feared. ",If there were labour strikes, the company would be in big trouble" according to the management. Bangladeshis who depart after two or three years will be replaced by new ones.

4. Agencies and terms of employment

Bangladeshi workers are being recruited by agencies in Bangladesh which work closely together with Malaysian agencies. Agencies in Bangladesh advertise in newspapers, stating that there are opportunities for Bangladeshi workers to make a great deal of money in Malaysia. Often upon arrival in Malaysia, the workers discover they have an employment agreement which turns out to be false or is just not taken seriously. Not much is known about the real terms of labour agreement and key persons involved in the hiring process and their networks. However, it is clear that a great amount of money is being made and that cheating goes on. During interviews with managers and NGOs who are trying to tackle the practises of these agencies, it was revealed that there are indications that government officials on both sides are involved.

It seems to be no problem to recruit workers. As a manager of one factory put it: "Bangladeshi workers are easy to get. You can even go into a factory in Bangladesh and select what you want".

Most of the workers were between twenty and thirty years old, about 25% percent of those interviewed were university graduates. Most others had had a job in Bangladesh, working as a sewer, in a shop or in a family business. Except for the workers at factory 5 who were unemployed before they came. Thus, most of them are unskilled, apart from the semiskilled ones who had previously worked in the garment industry. They are categorised as "semi"-skilled because they had previously worked as sewers, but had made different, less complicated, items. A Bangladeshi worker is recruited for a particular company, it is strictly forbidden to leave this company and opt for another job elsewhere. A contract always is on a two years basis. Employers can prolong a contract with one year, whereafter the Bangladeshi worker must return.

Except for the Bangladeshi workers from factory 1 and factory 2 who had the same agency, the workers came via different agencies. Those who had been in Malaysia for more than a year in November 1994 had paid 5,000 RM to their agent. A second batch at factory 2 had to pay 6,000 to 7,000 RM. A batch of Bangladeshi workers at factory 4 who arrived in September 1994 also paid 6,000 RM.

The workers in factory 1 - all university graduates - signed a contract with their agency in Dhaka. In the official looking employment agreement, it is stated that the worker will receive a monthly salary of 500 RM (20 RM a day) for an 8 hour working day working 6 days per week, as is the Malaysian law. Furthermore, it is said that overtime, annual leave and holidays will be granted and paid according to Malaysian law. Upon arrival of the workers in Malaysia their new boss declared that the employment agreement was false. Over the first 4 months, she paid each worker 270 RM (10 RM a day) per month. During the first year they earned between 325-350 RM a month (12-13 RM a day). Working hours had been increased to 10 hours a day, and no overtime (OT) rates (1.5 times according to the law) were paid. At the end of their first year they could earn 16 RM for ten hours, and an additional 2.5 hours overtime were introduced, although there were still no overtime rates. Now they work at least 72.5 hours a week.

Another difference, normally, workers in the garment industry are paid per piece. But the workers in this factory were not paid piece-rated, rather, their salary was fixed. Now, if they work some additional OT on Sunday, they can make about 500 RM per month. After a year, working at least 24 more hours per week than in their contract, the workers are finally earning what they had been promised as a basic wage.

The Bangladeshis at factory 2 had an identical contract with the same agency, and they also ended up earning only half of what had been promised to them: 10 RM instead of 20 RM a day. When one of them complained and demanded the conditions which had been agreed upon beforehand, he was beaten up by the agent and was in hospital for a few days. Ever since, he is threatened by the management.

The factory 2 workers earned about 280 RM the year that they came, and now their salary lies between 300-400 RM per month depending on OT and production. They are paid piece-rated. Again, the management doesn't observe the labour law, as OT rates are not paid. When there is not much work, the Bangladeshis sometimes only earn 2 or 3 ringgit per day, as opposed to the basic wage rate of 10 ringgit a day.

At factory 3, workers earn a basic wage of 8 RM a day, compared to the 15 ringgit promised by their agent. They are piece-rated, and work at least 68 hours a week. OT is being paid satisfactorily. They earn on average 500 RM per month.

The Bangladeshis of factory 4 were told they would earn 800 RM per month. In Bangladesh, they had to sign a contract written in Bahasa Malaysia although they could not read this language. The ones who have been in Malaysia for 1.5 year earn 450-500 ringgit during a month when there is enough overtime.

In factory 5, the Bangladesh workers did not appear disappointed about their agent or their payments. They receive what they had been promised by the agent beforehand. They earn 12.5 RM a day, on top of which they receive shift allowances and proper OT. They can earn between 450-700 RM per month.

5. Debts or savings

Even on the basis of the limited data available it is obvious that it is very difficult - and in some cases even impossible - to earn back the original fee of 5,000-7,000 RM during the two year contract, let alone save some money to support their families back home. In many cases, the whole family has helped to enable a family member go to Malaysia. Land is sold and savings are spent. Some people also borrow money, adding the burden of interest to their debts. In Bangladesh with its high unemployment rates, sending somebody abroad is considered as a good investment. The advertisements by the agencies convince the workers that the fee will be easily earned back and that the worker will be able to save and support the family back home.

However, simply earning back the fee turns out to be a very difficult goal. "My father, many, many ringgit lost" said a Bangladeshi worker from factory 1 emotionally. After 1 year and 4 months of working he was able to pay back only 1500 RM. His fellow workers, as well as the workers from factory 2, didn't do much better. The factory 3 workers have been there for nearly 2 years, and expect to have saved 4,000-6,000 when the contract has finished. The Bangladeshis in factory 4 have been in Malaysia for 1.5 years, and still have not sent back the money they paid to the agent. "The money I sent back now, can not count this as savings", it is said. The workers in this factory will most likely be able to pay the money back after the two year period is over, but very little savings will have been accumulated. According to the workers from factory 5, everything depends on the OT they will get.

Bitter feelings towards the agencies prevail. "The agents are big bluffers, they are cheaters," said one worker putting the general feeling into words.

6. Salaries and working conditions

According to the Malaysian law, employers have to treat migrant and local workers as equals with the same wages and the same benefits. All managers interviewed in Penang stated that this equal treatment is practised.

Although a systematic comparison of working conditions and payments between migrant and local workers was not feasible, substantial differences in treatment and payments were found in four of the five factories studied.

It is clear that overtime is very important to the Bangladeshi workers. As a manager put it, "Bangladeshis are very motivated, they ask for OT all the time".

As mentioned before, in factory 1 and factory 2, overtime is not being paid 1.5 times normal wages as required by law. On public holidays and Sundays rather than the double or triple OT wage, workers are paid normal rates. Workers in factory 1 and factory 3 are made to work extreme hours in times of ",emergency". During the research period the workers in factory 1 had to work 35 hours without sleep. Also Bangladeshis in factory 4 were forced to work 54 hours in a row to finish an order, while local workers could go home when they were tired.

At the same time, workers from factory l, 2, 4 and 5 do not get much overtime. Not all companies need to add OT shifts all of the time - in fact, companies with low overtime are regarded as "more efficient".

The Bangladeshis from factory 2 complained that when there is not much production, the OT goes to the Chinese workers. This was found to be quite common in the other factories as well - local workers are favourised in the distribution of OT. Obviously, there are differences in treatment and salaries between local and Bangladeshi workers.

It is beyond the scope of this research to thoroughly compare the wages of locals with those of Bangladeshis in all 5 factories. Jobs differ, as do the years of service, as well as the skill levels which determine the payment of piece-rated workers. Nevertheless, some observations can be made. All Bangladeshis interviewed stated that the locals earn much more. As a worker from factory 3 who works in the store said "I do the same job as a Chinese worker, we both carry. I get 13 RM and he gets 20 RM per day. Same work, 7 RM difference". Though it is understandable that this creates hard feelings, it could be legally correct. Most of the local workers have worked for many years in the same factory, and due to annual increments, their salary can be much higher than a newcomer's.

There are no annual increments for the Bangladeshis working in factories 2, 3 and 4. Factory 1 had an increment, but the question is if this should be regarded as a serious increase, since they started with a very low fixed wage. For factory 5, no information was available. In factory 1, there are hardly any locals left as they always seem to leave within a few weeks time, because they are unhappy with the pay and working conditions.

At factory 4, the basic wage of a Bangladeshi worker is 9.10 RM a day. A new local worker receives 11 RM per day for the same job. A local worker gets an annual increment of 0.90 RM per day, but a Bangladeshi doesn't.

In factories 2 and 3, the workers are paid piece-rated. The workers at factory 2 complained that the Chinese women always got the best jobs. Favouritism is very common, and is also experienced by local non-Chinese women in other factories, as managers, who normally are Chinese, are said to usually favourise Chinese women. "Some Bangladeshis (good sewers) get same benefits as the local workers" a Bangladeshi said about factory 3.

Local workers receive a bonus around Chinese New Year. This bonus is normally as high as 1 to 2 months salary. The Bangladeshi workers at factory 1 got a 5 RM bonus last year. In factory 2 and 4 they got nothing although in factory 4 the locals received a 1.7 months pay. In factory 3, they got 30 RM plus an orange. In factory 5 a reasonable bonus is expected.

When it comes to public holidays, Bangladeshis in factories 1, 2 and 3 don't get days off, for 4 and 5 it is not known whether they do. The minimum annual leave of 9 days per year required by the law is not granted to the Bangladeshi workers in factories 1 and 2. It is granted in factory 3, and for factory 4 and 5 this information is not known

According to the textile union in Penang there are more differences when it comes to benefits and allowances, such as food allowances and health services.

6.1 Moving and living

The passports of the Bangladeshis in all of the factories are kept by the management. The employers fear that workers will otherwise leave for a better paid job. Under the Malaysian Passport Act of 1956, it is an offence to retain a person's passport or internal travel documents.

For the Bangladeshi workers, the consequences of this are far-reaching. In a country were foreigners must be able to prove their identity at all times, this is a serious constriction to one's freedom of movement. Workers of factories 1, 2, 3 and 4 have been stopped by the police several times while walking down the road. A copy of the passport is not regarded as sufficient proof of identification, they are normally taken to the police station where they have to pay "fees" of about 50 RM each. Management has promised assistance in such situation if necessary, but never actually helped out when needed in the cases studied.

In factory 4, the management keeps 50 RM of the Bangladeshis salary each month, a so called "security pay", to ensure that they will not run away. At the end of the 2 year period, they are promised to get the money back.

Accommodation is provided for by the management of the factories as is transport. Although managers often declared that the houses are well furnished and have refrigerators and televisions, upon visits only very basic and overcrowded apartments were discovered. It is common that 10 to 15 workers share one apartment, and most of them sleep on the floor. There were no proper kitchen facilities in the apartments of the Bangladeshis from factory 3. Only the accommodation of the Bangladeshis from factory 5, who lived in a two story house, were proper. Although it was barely furnished, it wasn't as crowded and the house was in good shape.

7. Management: fulfilling their duties?

The study showed that Bangladeshi workers in most cases are neither treated nor paid adequately.

Factories 3 and 4, both respectable companies, don't safeguard the rights of their Bangladeshi workers as one might expect. Factory 1 and 2, the subcontractor and the small branch, were indeed the worst of all. Factory 5 appears to be the only factory which treats its Bangladeshi workers reasonably well. As previously mentioned, it seems typical for small factories to have poorer wages and working conditions. Locals often don't want to work there, which increases the shortage of labour. In our study, another small factory was found which had 50 new workers from Bangladesh. After 1 week, 48 of them had left. No locals worked there, the manager stated that he was happy to have now found illegal Indonesian women.

But whether or not the smaller factories are worse, to a certain extent, the big, well established firms are to be held responsible for the salaries and working conditions in the small factories too. Most of them are happy to subcontract to the small ones, which is often cheaper than doing everything in one's own factory. Many established companies rely heavily on these sweatshops.

8. Bangladeshi workers: happy to be in Malaysia?

When the Bangladeshi workers were asked if they would have come to Malaysia if they had known beforehand about the actual payments and conditions, all except the workers from factory 5 gave a clearly negative response. "They took two years of my life. Two years are wasted," said a worker from factory 1. He and many other graduates came to Malaysia to save some money so that they could start something on their own in Bangladesh. Others had to support their families. Returning home worse off than before the "Malaysian adventure", was not what the workers envisaged before leaving Bangladesh, nor was it what the agents had promised them.

Bitter feelings about the differences in treatment and wages between local and Bangladeshi workers prevail. The lack of freedom of movement and the hostile attitudes of many locals add to a general uncomfortable feeling. As one worker of factory 3 summarised: "Life in Malaysia is so complicated, so complicated! Boss problem, factory problem, salary problem, residential problem, all suffer." "What can I do, I am a foreigner," another said.

Only the workers from factory 5 were reasonably satisfied. They seemed to have a good relationship with their agent and appeared to receive the same benefits as the locals, although money still remained a problem and they were very concerned about getting OT. As said before, their situation in Bangladesh had been worse than those of the others, since they had had no jobs at all. This fact might add to their general feeling of satisfaction.

Employers are allowed to prolong the contract for one year once the two year period has ended. Most of the employers intended to do so. But many of the Bangladeshi workers didn't yet know if they would extend their stay. If the wages would increase, many would consider staying. They face a dilemma, since the longer they stay the more profitable it becomes. If after about two years the initial fee has been paid back, only in the third year one can start to save and send money back home.

One worker said that he intended to stay 5 years. He was the oldest son, his father had made this big investment, and he had to support his family. "Since my earnings are so low now, how can I go home after the contract is over?" he asked.

9. The role of unions

In the newspaper "The Sun" (05-08-1995) Mr. Rajasekeran, Secretary-General of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC), states that the MTUC wants "the foreign workers to be given equal salary and benefits". However, a general feeling of fear that foreign workers are a threat to local workers regarding wage level, benefits and facilities prevails and inhibits a genuine feeling of solidarity. Furthermore, it is thought that migrant workers are not interested in joining the unions. (Position paper on guest workers, MTUC, ICFTU-APRO, September, 1994).

Our study revealed that in the case of the textile industry, many factories, who apart from a labourshortage are facing stiff competition from surrounding low-cost countries, would have had to close if Bangladeshi workers had not filled the labour gap. In that case, not only would the business community have suffered, but locals still working in the sector would have lost their job too.

It was found that the Bangladeshis in factory 4, where there is a union, were very interested once the union realised (after 1.5 years) that these fellow workers should be organised. They soon became members. The unionists were shocked at the differences in wages, benefits and treatment. According to the unionists it is not difficult to settle these problems by reporting the differences in wages and treatment to the Labour Office.

In our study, it was found that Bangladeshis are interested in unions, but often fear repercussions from the management side, "What can I do, I am a foreigner", they said. But as happened in factory 4, fears can be overcome on both sides.

While concerns about large numbers of foreign workers entering Malaysia might be understandable, it is important that workers close ranks now, to prevent wages and conditions from deteriorating, as well as to ensure the rights of all workers. Hatred among workers - analogous to the "divide and rule" strategy - is a favourable condition for employers. The unions have a crucial role to play.

9.1 The role of the government

There is a lot of fuss in the Malaysian media about the high number of illegal migrants and the social problems they are said to be creating (note: the Bangladeshi workers we found in the textile industry were all legal). Many of the interviewed managers complained that large numbers of the Bangladeshi workers disappear. If one considers the situation the Bangladeshis are in, it is not hard to understand that they are desperate for better paid jobs. However, it is not desirable for the Bangladeshis to be illegal, although many don't realise this. When illegal, they are even more vulnerable. There are numerous cases where illegal workers didn't get paid at all. When caught without papers by the police, they can be detained in a work camp before being deported.

But if workers earned what they were promised and get their basic rights, why should they run away?

Besides, to workers in Bangladesh, who are considering going to work in Malaysia, going as a tourist (illegally), might appear more appealing than going via an agency. As one worker puts it: "Actually, many many Bangladeshis have problems with agent and contract, if come as tourist (illegal) no problem with agent and contract".

The problem of illegal migrant workers can not be solved without tackling the unfair practises towards legal migrant workers.

Though foreign labour may not be a desirable long term solution for the shortage of labour in Malaysia, for the time being it plays an important role in the country's production. According to a government official, "they take care of the growth of our GDP": foreign labour is responsible for up to 12% of Malaysia's domestic economic growth.

It is not misplaced, therefore, to give migrant workers the credit they deserve, to ensure proper wages and working conditions and to tackle the exploitive practices of agencies in both countries.

"Foreign workers are modern day slaves, as they are practically owned by employers or scrupulous agents" Mr. Rajasekeran stated. The MTUC made several proposals to the government to tackle these problems, all of which were rejected.

It is not only unions which have a role to play. The government is responsible in the first place. It should ensure proper wages and working conditions by ensuring that relative laws are enforced. Moreover, the government should ensure that the exploitative practices of the agencies are abandoned. As for the responsibility of the labour providing country, as a government official said, it is most effective if "a labour providing country puts pressure on our (Malaysian) government".

At times one has the impression that we are no longer talking about people. As the owner of a factory, who thought about expanding even though she was facing a high labour shortage puts it: "No problem, since one can always import labour and all that".


Abdul, 24 years old, studied commerce at the university of Dhaka and graduated in April 1993. Though he was a good student, he couldn't find a job. His father advised him to set up a small business himself. But the family couldn't afford to help him with the initial investments. One afternoon Abdul's eye was caught by a newspaper advertisement: "Work in Malaysia, and make a lot of money in two years time." The advertiser, a kind of a travel agency, claimed to help to find well paid jobs in Malaysia. Abdul went to the office, which was situated in one of the better areas of Dhaka. A friendly, well-dressed clerk showed him the employment agreement and explained the conditions to him. Abdul conferred with his father. It was true that the fee which he would have to pay to the agency was extremely high, but with the wage as stated in the contract he would be able to pay that amount back and still earn a substantial amount of money. Besides, the agent had told him there was a lot of overtime work available for higher pay. Abdul didn't mind working hard for 2 years in Malaysia.

His father finally agreed. He sold part of his land, took out his savings, and convinced his brother that it was a good investment for the family. The amount of money for the fee was collected within a month, Abdul signed the contract.

Upon arrival in Malaysia, Abdul was brought to his company by the Malaysian counterpart of the agency. At first he thought that there was some miscommunication, as his new boss declared that his employment agreement was false. The Malaysian agent said that he was not responsible, although he had obviously got a substantial part of the fee that Abdul had paid to the agency in Dhaka. A nightmare began. Abdul and his fellow workers earned half of what was promised to them. They didn't receive the same benefits and treatments as the local workers, which was promised in the employment agreement and which is required by law. Abdul worked many hours, but he calculated that in the end it would be very difficult for him to give his father and his uncle their money back. The only choice Abdul had was to stay and try to earn as much back of the meagre family savings as he could. Abdul's story is not an isolated case.

Anja Rudnick
Cetuurbaarbaan 294 II
NL-1072-GG Amsterdam.

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