Malaysia’s leading gloves maker has agreed to compensate nearly 1,600 of its foreign workers.
KATHMANDU: Like tens of thousands of Nepali migrant workers who go on foreign employment every year, Kafle, who wanted to be identified only by his surname, paid a huge sum of money to a recruiting agency in the country for a job in Malaysia in 2012.
For a job in WRP Asia Pacific, a leading gloves maker, Kafle paid Rs60,000.“For years, Nepali workers have been paying Rs100,000-Rs150,000 for Malaysian jobs,” Kafle told the Post over the phone from Malaysia. “I also had to pay for the job for which I had to take a loan.”Now, in an interesting turn of events, Kafle and hundreds of other Nepali workers stand to get reimbursement of the money they had spent to secure jobs in WRP. In a rare instance in the foreign employment sector, the Malaysian company has agreed to return the amount the foreign workers had paid to get jobs there.“This feels so unreal that workers like me are getting paid back for the expenses we had paid for our jobs,” said Kafle, who hails from Dhankuta. “No one had ever thought that we would ever receive the money. Every single worker is happy with the decision.”As part of the WRP’s recruitment fee remediation program, nearly 1,600 of its workers would be benefitted from the reimbursement package, a local media reported.
The move will also provide respite to nearly 600 Nepali workers employed by WRP Asia Pacific. These migrant workers will be paid on a quarterly basis with each worker expected to receive a total payout ranging from Malaysian Ringgit (RM)4,547 to RM16,054 over the period of the next 30 months. The workers’ reimbursement will be cleared in 11 installments, which will be deposited in the workers’ bank account with their monthly salary, according to the contract document, obtained by the Post. According to Kafle, a Nepali worker would be getting (RM)4,547, which is equivalent to Rs128,063.“Every Nepali worker, irrespective of when they came and how much they paid for the job, are getting the same amount,” said Kafle. “In the first month we will receive RM 114, then the amount will be raised to around RM200.”Kafle added the good thing about this scheme was that even those workers who have already left for Nepal after February 31 or planning to leave in the near future will also be reimbursed.“They [the employer] have collected all the documents, including bank details, so that they can deposit the amount,” said Kafle. “Whether Nepali or Bengali, everyone is happy with this news.”Aspiring migrant workers from labour sending countries in South Asia like Nepal have to pay exorbitant fees to local sub-agents and recruiting agencies for overseas jobs. Despite strict efforts from both governments—labour sending and labour receiving countries, migrant workers have been forced to pay hefty amounts for foreign jobs which should otherwise be free. To pay high fees for overseas jobs, workers often have to take loans. And once they reach their labour destinations, they are caught in a struggle to pay back the loans; for some, making it difficult to escape from the vicious cycle of labour migration.
“Recruitment fees and related costs keep poor migrant workers in debt bondage and hence at high risk of forced labor,” said Andy Hall, a Kathmandu-based migrant worker rights specialist working in South and South-East Asia. “This is because workers are forced to take out high-interest loans from local money lenders and sell property or possessions to ensure the payments needed to be recruited in the first place.”Such conditions further force them to continue working for the company, however unrewarding a job maybe, because of debt bondage, according to Hall. Many workers are also forced to work for their employers as their passports are confiscated, he added. The WRP’s decision to compensate its foreign workers has come after the United States’ Customs and Border Protection (CBP) imposed a ban on the company’s exports to the US last September over forced labour charges. The Guardian investigation, in 2018, had revealed that at least two Malaysian companies—Top Glove and WRP–were subjecting thousands of migrant workers from Nepal and Bangladesh to exploitative working conditions and their products were part of forced labour.The WRP had then agreed to meet conditions set by the CBP to continue its exports to the US. According to Free Malaysia Today, an online news portal, the ban was lifted in March after the company assured the CBP that it was no longer producing its rubber gloves under forced labour conditions.The Southeast Asian country, which remains a major labour destination for Nepali migrants, produces two-thirds of global consumption of rubber gloves. The ongoing pandemic has seen skyrocketing of demand for gloves from Malaysian manufactures, creating new billionaires in Malaysia.“A majority of Malaysia glove factories’ workforce come from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Indonesian and Myanmar,” said Hall. “For such challenging and unrewarding jobs, they have paid recruitment fees and other related costs, which go up to $5,000 per worker.”As per the International Labour Organisation’s fair and responsible recruitment standards, a migrant worker should be relieved of any such fees and other financial and workplace abuses, leading to forced labour and human trafficking.Hall called the WRP’s remediation programme a breakthrough.
“The WRP agreeing to pay back workers, who invested a huge sum for jobs, must be a stepping stone to systemic change. It has become the first gloves manufacturer in Malaysia to provide repayment of past worker recruitment fees and related costs,” said Hall. “Whilst this is a welcome step, the CBP’s approach to WRP is still discriminatory and non-transparent.”According to Hall, forced labor remains widespread across the whole Malaysian rubber gloves industry and other companies have also shown terrible mistreatment of foreign workers.“The high-risk situation of forced labor amongst migrant workers in the Malaysian gloves industry can only be addressed once and for all after the employers fully reimburse past recruitment fees and related costs,” said Hall. “Furthermore, ethical recruitment practices or zero cost recruitment policies should be strictly enforced when these companies plan to hire more foreign workers in the future.”The Employer’s Pay Model or Zero Cost policy also stresses on making the employer responsible cover all the expenses on behalf of a worker for protecting vulnerable migrant workers from possible exploitations.
Nepal and Malaysia have signed a pact to provide zero cost jobs to Nepali workers. However, nothing much has changed for poor Nepali migrant workers as they continue to face exploitation. Kafle and his fellow workers are overjoyed by the news of getting their money back, although it is a long wait of 30 months till they are fully reimbursed.“I got this news when I was planning to go back but I could not due to other reasons. Who will not be happy with such a decision?” said Kafle. “We will get the money sooner or later. But who would have thought that the money once we paid to sub-agents and recruiting agencies would come back to us in a foreign country? This seems like a godsend.”