Indonesia agrees to lift freeze on sending migrant workers to Malaysia

FILE PHOTO: Indonesian migrant workers who arrived from Malaysia exercise during quarantine to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Soewondo air base in Medan

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) -Indonesia has agreed to lift a freeze on sending its migrant workers to Malaysia effective August 1, after the neighbours ironed out concerns surrounding workers' rights, according to statements from both countries on Thursday.

The entry of migrant workers will help Malaysia - the world's second-largest palm oil producer and a key link in the global supply chain - ease a shortage of some 1.2 million workers.

Indonesia this month temporarily stopped sending its citizens to work in Malaysia, including thousands recruited for the plantation sector, citing a breach in an agreement aimed at improving the protection of domestic workers employed in Malaysian households. [L4N2YU1TP]

Jakarta agreed to resume sending its workers after both countries agreed to trial a single channel to facilitate the recruitment and entry of Indonesian workers, Malaysia's Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan said in a statement.

Indonesia's Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah announced separately that both parties agreed to resume recruitment of workers from August 1, depending on whether the implementation of the commitments made in the agreement is effective.

Malaysia's immigration authorities had previously used an online recruitment system for domestic workers, but that had been linked to allegations of trafficking and forced labour.

Scrutiny over the treatment of migrant workers in Malaysia has been growing, with seven Malaysian companies banned by the United States in the last two years over what it described as "forced labour".

Malaysia relies on millions of foreign workers from countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nepal to staff plantation and factory jobs.

But despite lifting a pandemic-induced freeze on recruitment in February, Malaysia has not yet seen a significant return of workers due to slow government approvals and protracted talks with source countries over employee protections.

(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu in Kuala Lumpur and Bernadette Christina in Jakarta; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)