KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 7 — For some Nepali citizens, going to Malaysia to work meant a chance at a decent life.
But the harsh realities they faced working in Malaysia were a far cry from what was “promised”.
Inadequate wages, dangerous working conditions and cramped dormitories are among the many challenges Nepali migrant workers face here.
Nepali migrant workers in Malaysia contribute 23 per cent of Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2022, as reported by the Migration for Development and Equality (MIDEQ).
The Nepali government requires Malaysian companies to be screened to ensure that certain standards regarding the safety and protection of Nepali workers are fulfilled before they can be linked to recruitment agencies in Nepal.
Anita Ghimire, co-investigator for MIDEQ, said intermediaries in Malaysia may also be linked to these recruitment agencies.
She said when the sources in Malaysia indicate a demand for workers, the recruitment agencies will publish it in newspapers and informal agents will reach out to villagers on the advertised job opportunities and submit applications on behalf of the prospective migrants to the recruitment agencies.
The recruitment agencies will then handle the paperwork and co-ordinate with the Nepali government to obtain labour approval for the prospective workers.
MIDEQ co-director Katharine Jones said that it is important to look at the issues from the sending side and the receiving side to identify why migrant workers become undocumented.
There are a few reasons why the Nepali migrant workers fall into the “informal route”.
“Sometimes the brokers may choose different routes, sometimes the paperwork isn’t submitted correctly, either in Nepal or in Malaysia,” said Jones.
“It’s in the business interest of the recruitment agencies to send as many as possible through an informal channel because through the legal route, the government of Nepal mandates that recruitment agencies be held liable for any issues that may occur to the migrant worker,” Ghimire added.
She said another reason is these migrant workers were recruited by an outsourcing company in Malaysia rather than a company that directly requires their services — although the migrants went through the process legally as individuals.
The outsourcing companies will then send them to work informally for other companies.
Ghimire said it is important to note that there is no way for the workers to know that they have been recruited by an outsourcing company until they arrive.
“Only workers who have been employed in Malaysia for a few years can use their networks to identify if it’s an outsourcing company or not,” she added.
Jones said upon arrival in Malaysia, migrant workers are sometimes denied the right to hold a copy of their contract.
Ghimire explained that what is worse is that when there is ambiguity or a supply of incorrect information, the company will have them sign a different contract from what the recruiter gave them, and they have no choice but to accept it since they are already here.
According to a report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) titled “Assessment of Causes and Contributing Factors to Migrant Workers Becoming Undocumented in Malaysia” migrant workers often leave their employers due to various reasons including abuse, etc.
Their work permits are tied to their employer so when they opt to change employers, their work permit is invalidated, causing them to become undocumented.
MIDEQ is an organisation that aims to convert knowledge and ideas into policies and practices that may improve the lives of migrants, their families, and communities.
The MIDEQ Nepal-Malaysia research focused on migration issues around gender inequalities, migrant perception, knowledge and decision-making, and the facilitation of intermediaries.
It was conducted in 2020 and 2021 through interviews with 98 respondents.
The report by IOM was conducted to explore how documented migrant workers become undocumented during employment in Malaysia, with a specific focus on the manufacturing sector and migrant workers from Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal with 40 respondents. The report was published in August this year.