Promoting rights and social security of migrant workers

The Ministry of Labour and Manpower was established on 20 January 1972 to revive the economy of war-torn independent Bangladesh. Then, from the middle of the 1970s, manpower exports to the Middle East began. Men, as well as women, began to change their destiny. Through their remittance, the wheel of economic development of the country started turning and their unemployment also started decreasing. Following this, a separate ministry named ‘Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment’ was established on 20 December 2001.

Remittance is one of the major sources of foreign exchange in Bangladesh. This remittance is sent by Bangladeshi workers working in different corners of the world. There are also some white Bangladeshi workers and professionals engaged in various professions abroad. Among them are doctors, engineers, teachers, and other professions. The people in these professions earn a satisfactory income. However, the remittances sent by such professionals to the country are only a fraction of the total income. The income that the workers earn is in many cases far from satisfactory. There are allegations that Bangladeshi workers working abroad get paid less than workers in other countries as a result of not negotiating properly.

Expatriate men and women are playing an important role in the economy of Bangladesh. The migration of women workers started in 1991 with the sending of 189 women workers abroad. According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) of the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, there are currently around 10.27 million expatriates in 179 countries, of which about one million are women workers. In a country with a large population, more than two million men and women workers are being added to the labor market every year, but the employment rate is much lower than this. As a result, we are forced to think about labour migration. According to a survey, women are far ahead of men in sending money to the country. Because, they send almost all of their income back to the country.

Bangladeshi women are also now working as expatriate workers and the number is not very low. The experience of women working in foreign lands is also not pleasant. A large proportion of expatriate women go to the Middle East as domestic workers. Since 2014, a large number of women workers have started going to Saudi Arabia. The women workers are also going to UAE, Jordan, Qatar, Lebanon and some other countries. The cost of migration is being increased due to the middlemen; a large amount of money has to be counted. But despite spending too much money and accepting so much sacrifice, they are suffering from various problems. The women who go abroad as laborers are not well educated and unskilled due to this they have to work as housemaids or domestic workers in different houses. They have to work long hours because there are no specific contracts and no vacation arrangements. They don’t get paid properly, in the meantime, many women are physically abused if they have a menial job. Many women are forced to bear abuses from their employers.

Missions have been set up abroad to provide various facilities and protect the interests of the locals. But many women workers cannot complain to the embassy if they are tortured. Many of them hesitate to complain out of fear of embarrassment. These expatriate workers work hard on foreign soil. Their food and accommodation facilities are also unsatisfactory. Bangladesh’s economy is being enriched by the income of migrant workers but their position is so miserable with untold sufferings.

Remittance from expatriate workers is used for goods imported to Bangladesh from abroad. Remittance from expatriate workers plays a vital role in financing Bangladesh’s imports. In this sense, remittance has a role to play in creating wealth inequality in the country. About 70,000 women workers have migrated to different countries, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan in 2021 for employment. But in 2020 this number was only 22 thousand. However, no specific information is available about women workers going abroad.

The whole thing depends on the agreement reached with Bangladesh on labour export with other countries. In addition, demand in labor-importing countries is also a major regulator. Many women workers from the Philippines go to work in Middle Eastern countries. The Filipino workers are paid much more than Bangladeshi female workers.

Although labour wings of Bangladeshi embassies are self-sufficient, there are allegations that the desired service is not being provided. To succeed in any project, it is necessary to formulate sound policies and their proper implementation. Bangladesh is still at the bottom of the international labour market regarding skilled migrant workers. The way to get rid of the problem of low-level employment is to create skilled manpower with quality training.

It often comes to our notice in the media that many of the women workers have to work non-stop for long periods. According to statistics, 35 per cent of women returning from abroad are victims of physical or sexual abuse and 44 per cent of women are not paid their dues. In 2020, 430,000 workers have returned from abroad out of which 50 thousand are women. Most of these women are victims of torture in one way or another. As a result, even after returning to the country, these women workers have been subjected to degrading and inhumane treatment.

The workers must be trained before being sent abroad. The government must provide all kinds of security to the workers. If there are any harassment of women workers in exile, it is necessary to provide immediate assistance to them. Our country’s embassies and governments must work to ensure their rights in exile. Also there must be rehabilitation process to ensure their normal life after returning to the country.

Migrant workers have been the biggest contributors to the country’s foreign exchange reserves during the Covid-19 pandemic period, reaching an all-time high of 48 billionUSD. Last fiscal year, expatriates sent about 22 billion USD to the country.

The Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment is taking a special initiative to ensure the employment of Bangladeshi nationals in different countries of the world. The government is making relentless efforts to restart closed foreign employment, strengthen existing employment and create new jobs. Meanwhile, employment agreements have been signed with the UAE and Greece.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) works to protect the rights of migrants or workers in the country. There are several international conventions. We want the whole world to accept these conventions. This will ensure the rights of any worker. Social protection should be created to protect the rights of workers. If the rights of any worker are violated then all parties can solve the problem through negotiation. The private sector must be included at all levels. The last important aspect is social security. The government has shown sincerity in enacting laws. Now the government should implement these laws properly. Otherwise, immigrants will not be able to enjoy their rights properly abroad. The government should take initiative to make the issue of expatriate welfare more purposefully.

The writer is Research Fellow,

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