ISSN 2330-717X

Sri Lanka And Bangladesh: Opportunities From Malaysian Labor Market Reopening – OpEd


The Pacific Island nation, Malaysia will employ Bangladeshi workers in various sectors, including agriculture, industry, services, mining, construction and household services. The cost of hiring will be borne by the employer. Recently, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed with the Minister for Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, Imran Ahmed, during his visit to Malaysia. This may be a golden opportunity for expanding the labors markets of Bangladesh.

On the other hand, according to media reports, more than 80% of our Sri Lankan emigrant labour are absorbed by the Gulf countries, according to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment; 34% of these are women, mostly domestic workers who get paid subsistence level salaries of Rs. 20-30,000 over there. A majority of Sri Lankan nationals are employed in the state of Johor in Malaysia. Malaysia and Singapore are the aspirational Shangri-La of potential migrant domestic workers in Sri Lanka. There are huge Sri Lankan migrant workers in Middle East. But this market should be expanded. Sri Lanka is facing financial crisis now. To overcome this financial crisis, remittances from the migrant workers can help to recover the economy. Sri Lanka needs sophistical policy I this regard. Pandemic covis-19 hits Sri Lankan economy. South Asian neighour, Bangladesh starts to expand its labour markets. Sri Lanka can follow Bangladesh’s footprint in this regard. Sri Lanka and Malaysia can work together in this regard. 

Although the flow of remittances to Bangladesh has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, the flow of remittances has decreased over the last few months. So, the opening of the Malaysian labor market at the moment is good news for us. The market opened on December 19, 2021, in Kuala Lumpur with the signing of a memorandum of understanding. The agreement was signed by Malaysia’s Human Resources Minister M Saravanan and Bangladesh’s Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmed. As a result of this agreement, after three long years, the labor market is being opened for Bangladeshis in Malaysia again. Malaysia’s cabinet has approved hiring workers in all sectors of the country. However, there has been some change in the signing of this agreement than before. Among them, there is no mention of the GTG Plus method. The age has been fixed from 18 to 45 years. There will be compulsory insurance for the workers, arrangements for the repatriation of the workers, and the cost will be borne by the employer. At the end of the contract period, the Malaysian recruiting agency will also have to take responsibility. Sri Lankan authority can take the same initiative taken by Bangladesh.

The first formal employment agreement with Malaysia was signed in 1992. After a few years, it closed. Bangladesh started sending workers again in 2008. However, Bangladesh was banned from the Malaysian labor market in 2009 due to a large number of illegal arrests. Then in 2012, a new agreement was signed between the two countries. Recruitment of workers stopped from September 1, 2018.

According to the World Bank, the slowdown in remittances in Bangladesh in the first nine months of 2021 is a sign of risk for 2022. The biggest reasons for this are the decline in manpower exports and the stagnation of expatriates during the epidemic. In the midst of such predictions by the World Bank, the doors of the stalled labor market in Malaysia are opened. This MoU will create employment opportunities for different Bangladeshi workers in different sectors in Malaysia. Besides being economically strong, the standard of living, good income – all in all, many are interested in going to Malaysia. In recent years, the largest number of workers have gone to Saudi Arabia, followed by Malaysia.

According to the International Organization for Migration, Bangladesh is one of the top ten countries in the world in terms of foreign employment and expatriate income. According to the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, more than 1o million Bangladeshis have gone to work in different countries of the world since 1976. Most of them are poorly educated. According to the UK-based Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), Bangladesh will be one of the 25 largest economies in the world by 2032. Expatriate income has played a major role in creating dynamism in the urban economy as well as rural economy. Therefore, it is necessary to take new assessments and initiatives to address the problems of the vital economic sector such as foreign employment as well as domestic investment and employment in the country. In that case, in order to retain the expatriate income, it is necessary to determine the next strategy in the manpower sector. In that case, skilled workers must be made. Because, in the labor market, we have to face great competition with other countries of the world. The main place of that competition is to create skilled workers. After 2025, Saudi Arabia will no longer employ unskilled workers. On the other hand, due to the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the demand for skilled workers is increasing day by day in Europe. Therefore, emphasis should be laid on creating skilled workers. If necessary, training can be arranged by changing the curriculum to meet the demand.

Therefore, the opening up of the labor market at that moment can be said to be positive for our manpower export sector. Holding on to the labor market, including Malaysia, in the future will create employment opportunities for many more people. At present we have a lot of young people in our country. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (EIJ), Bangladesh is currently suffering from a demographic dividend. The number of people aged 15 to 59 in the country is about 80 percent. It is very difficult to provide employment to this huge population. So, if you can use the labor market of other countries, it will bring benefits. Therefore, there is no substitute for creating skilled workers through training. Sri Lanka also understand that skilled migrants’ workers can contribute much. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh both should exploit the opportunities. 

*Jubeda Chowdhury is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the University of Dhaka.

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