The Department of Labour (DOL) would like to refer to the issues raised in the Opinion pages of the Borneo Bulletin by Mr Man (Labour Department should let employers bring maid) and by Pg Hj Abd Rahman Pg Hj Omar (Confusion reigns over unauthorised agents) dated September 8 and 12, 2012 respectively. We thank both writers for their views and the DOL would like to provide inputs and comments as follows:
The DOL, as in other government agencies, feels that providing information to the people is critical in ascertaining that any policies, rules and regulations (current and new) of the government are well understood by the public. In this respect, the department has held numerous roadshows for the purpose of educating and raising awareness to the public on labour related issues or policies, rules and regulations. Earlier this year for example, the department had organised a number of roadshows which focused on the implementation of the Employment Agencies Order, 2004 (EA0 2004).
In addition, the department also provides any information relating to labour matters as required from time to time and as much as possible, provides feedback and clarifications on issues raised by the public through press statements/ releases in the media. This includes the issue as to why employers cannot recruit their own workers (including maids) directly from the sending countries which were published in the Borneo Bulletin as follows:
Title : Labour Clears Air Over Licence Issue
Date : 6th January 2012
Title : Labour Department Warns Against Unlicensed job agencies
Date : 30th July 2012
Title : Hefty Fine Awaits Violators of Employment Agency Order 2004
Date : 5th September 2012
The DOL acknowledges that recruitment of workers (such as maids) by employers themselves may be cheaper than those recruited through employment agencies. However, there are reasons as to why recruitment through a registered employment agency is mandatory for employers. These include:
- To ensure compliance with the law, not only in home or receiving countries but also the law in sending countries;
- To eliminate recruitment malpractices by individuals (which can include employment agencies and employers) which may lead to abuse, exploitation and subsequently labour trafficking and human smuggling issues.
It should be noted that the implementation of EAO 2004 was never meant to punish genuine employers but rather to provide a ruling that will benefit all the stakeholders which include the employees, employers, employment agencies as well as the government in the long run.
As has been informed to the public quite frequently via local media, with the implementation of EAO 2004 earlier this year, the DOL no longer entertains freelance agents, individuals or any unauthorised agents in dealing with any labour applications. However, based on the recent observation, the DOL did find out that there seems to be a number of freelance agents and unauthorised agents that are still conducting their business with the DOL. It is speculated that they have done this through engagement with registered (licensed) employment agencies and possibly with the department's staff as well. This activity is fortunately limited to application of Bur 500 (work permit recommendation for new workers) only.
Because of this reason, the DOL is taking a proactive action to stop the activity and at the same time strengthen our foothold in ensuring that there are no loopholes for both unscrupulous agencies as well as the misbehaving staff to take advantage of.
The DOL would like to reassure the public that the department is doing its best to ensure that all officers and staff are doing their job as instructed or assigned. For the public's information, disciplinary actions have been taken against a number of officers that were found misusing and/or abusing their power and the department will not hesitate to take such actions should it occur again. However, such actions are not generally disclosed to the public. In this regard, the DOL urges the public to come forward should they experience any inconsistencies and dissatisfaction in the level of service that they have encountered in any counter, section or district branch of the department.
The DOL does not give foreign workers recruitment licence (quotas) to any employment agencies. As stated in the EA0 2004, one of the conditions to acquire the employment agency licence is that the owner and employees of the employment agencies must be Brunei Citizens or Permanent Residents. The employment agencies can only apply quotas for companies, ie on the companies' behalf. Hence, the issue of 'renting out' of quotas by employment agencies is not applicable.
For companies to acquire the quotas, the DOL has to make sure that the employers are genuine, the business exists and proper documentation such as documents projects (for contractors) and Miscellaneous Licence (for example retail trading) are submitted to support the applications. On top of that, the DOL will also take into consideration job opportunities for locals before the quotas are eventually given to companies.
It is always a big challenge to give the ideal number of quotas to companies and even more challenging to balance it between the need of the company and the need for providing job opportunities to locals. For this purpose, the DOL has in place some guidelines to ensure that quotas given are standardised according to sectors of business. We welcome the writer to meet us in the department for further clarification on this issue.
With a large number of foreign workers working in Brunei, it poses a big challenge for the DOL to monitor the status of all the foreign workers. The DOL realises this issue and through the Labor Enforcement Division, numerous inspections/operations are conducted from time to time to ensure companies comply with the rules and regulations put forward by the DOL, in accordance to the Employment Order 2009. Some of these raids are publicised in the local media where quite often, employers are caught with some labour issues. As part of our actions, a substantial number of foreign workers' licences have been reduced or even revoked because of violation of the Employment Order 2009 and some are brought to court for legal action. The DOL is obliged to continue this initiative and will also work closely with other relevant agencies such as JIPK in conducting such raids and operations.
In regards to the comment made, viewing that the implementation of EAO 2004 as a 'total failure' is quite unreasonable, as the EAO 2004 has just been implemented early this year (2012). It is understandable that employers and the public are not used to be restricted, particularly in recruiting foreign workers as before and thus this new policy may create some difficulties and dissatisfaction The DOL acknowledges some of the issues put forward and will try to address them in due course It is important to note here that EAO is not new. In fact EAO has worked well in many countries, which have introduced it much earlier.
The DOL acts as a facilitator for business by providing foreign workers' recruitment licence to companies who wish to bring in foreign manpower or migrant workers to the country as well as meeting the needs of families with domestic helpers. Today, however. protection of migrant workers is becoming an increasingly important issue internationally and thus now, sending countries are more cautious to send their workers abroad. In fact there are a number of receiving countries that have been blacklisted by the sending countries from recruiting their workers because of lack of protection. It is therefore imperative that we must not be complacent on the current supply of migrant workers coming into Brunei Darussalam If suddenly the country were to be duped as to not providing adequate protection to migrant workers, we may also face the risk of being blacklisted. This would tarnish the good image of the country internationally and subsequently it would have negative implications to the labour market supply and hence to the economic growth and development of the country.
In this regard, the department is doing its best within its capacity, to handle and deal with those issues and challenges. The DOL understands the concerns by the public that at times we may have not done enough. However, managing foreign workers is complex, most often difficult and more importantly need not be solely obliged to the DOL as it is a national issue and involves a number of stakeholders. Thus, it is important that employers, employees, employment agencies as well as the public understand that labour related issues can be addressed and resolved in accordance to the rules and regulations of the country.
The DOL would like to take this opportunity to urge the public to come and meet us should they encounter any labour matters which need further clarification, and the DOL will take actions accordingly For more information and enquiries, visit our website at www.labour.gov.bn or our Facebook page under Jabatan Buruh Negara Brunei Darussalam.