The Malaysian government has clarified it is not recruiting 1.5 million workers from Bangladesh, saying the reports are "misconceptions".
Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot said number is the labour pool made available by Bangladesh, and not the actual number of recruits, the Malay Mail reported.
"I would like to state that news reports about the government taking in 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers is a misconception. It is untrue. It is incorrect," Riot said in a news conference in Putrajaya.
Earlier reports said Malaysia and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to receive 1.5 million workers over three years, kicking up protests from Malaysian trade unions and Bangladeshi recruiters.
But Riot, who was in Dhaka to sign the MoU, said 1.5 million is actually the number of those registered for overseas employment. He added that this pool of recruits was not meant for Malaysia alone and that other countries will also pick workers from it.
Malaysia's plantation and manufacturing sectors are in need of hundreds of thousands of labourers even as Malaysians are increasingly turning away from these unattractive jobs.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad had earlier said the recruits from Bangladesh would help fill in a vacuum created by Malaysians who shun the "dirty, dangerous, and difficult" jobs.
Workers groups and trade unions in Malaysia have criticised the government's plan to bring in hordes of Bangladeshi workers as it would limit the local people's employment opportunities.
They argue that higher pay will make the 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous and difficult) more attractive.
Malaysia has 2.1 million registered migrant workers as per official records. Of these around 300,000 are from Bangladesh. There is also an estimated 1.7 million undocumented foreign workers in the country.
After taking a U-turn following the controversy, the Malaysian government said it will stick to the migrant labour policy, which caps the number at 15 per cent of the total workforce or 2.3 million foreign workers.
"Any recruitment of Bangladesh workers shall be in accordance with Malaysia's policy, which is based on actual demand of employers from the various sectors that are allowed to hire foreign workers subject to the principle of demand and supply," Riot said.