Promoting the Rights and Security of Migrant Workers

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

Remittance is one of the significant sources of foreign exchange in Bangladesh. This remittance is sent by Bangladeshi workers working in different countries. There are also some middle-class Bangladeshi engaged in various professions abroad. Doctors, engineers, teachers, professors, and other professionals are among them. The people in these professions earn a satisfactory income. However, the remittances such professionals send to the country are only a fraction of the total revenue. The income that the workers earn is by no means satisfactory. There are allegations that Bangladeshi workers working abroad get paid less than workers in other countries due to incorrect negotiating.

Expatriate men and women are playing an essential role in Bangladesh’s economy. 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 1 million are women workers. In a country with a large population, more than 2 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 labor 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 to the government.

Bangladeshi women also work as expatriate workers, and the number is not very low. The experience of women working in foreign lands is also not pleasant. Many expatriate women go to the Middle East as domestic workers. Since 2014, many women workers have started going to Saudi Arabia. The women workers also go to UAE, Jordan, Qatar, Lebanon, and other countries. The cost of migration is increasing due to the middlemen; a large amount of money must be counted. But despite spending too much money and accepting so much sacrifice, they suffer 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 or vacation arrangements. They don’t get paid properly; in the meantime, many women are physically abused if they have a small job. Many women are forced to be abused by showing various fears or temptations.

State Embassies have been set up abroad to provide various facilities and protect the interests of the locals. However, many women workers cannot complain to the embassy if they are tortured. Many of them hesitate to complain about fear of embarrassment. These expatriate workers work hard on foreign soil. Their food and accommodation facilities are also unsatisfactory. The income of migrant workers enriches Bangladesh’s economy, but their position is miserable, and they suffer untold suffering.

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 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 labor export with other countries. In addition, demand in labor-importing countries is also a significant regulator. Many women workers from the Philippines go to work in Middle Eastern countries. In comparison, the workers in the Philippines are paid much more than Bangladeshi women workers. Women workers in the Philippines are pretty competent. According to various sources, they use their smartness to force employers to exercise restraint, which is uncommon among Bangladeshi women workers.

Although the labor wing of the Bangladesh Embassy is self-sufficient, there are allegations that the desired service is not being provided. Motivation, on the other hand, encourages staff and officers to perform their duties. 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 labor market, especially for skilled migrant workers. The way to eliminate the problem of low-level employment is to create skilled manpower with quality training.

We often notice in the media that many women workers have to work non-stop for long periods, apart from not paying proper salaries on time and not being allowed to eat for a long time. According to statistics, 35% of women returning from abroad are victims of physical or sexual abuse, and 44% of women are not paid their dues. In 2020 of the pandemic, .43 million (4 lac 30 thousand) workers have returned from abroad, of which 0.05 million (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 both family and socially.

The workers must be trained before being sent abroad. The government must provide all kinds of security to the workers. Women should be sent to caregivers, garments, or other occupations instead of domestic work. If there is 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. The workers on foreign soil must work to ensure their expected life; they also need to undertake various programs, including rehabilitation, to ensure their everyday life after returning to the country. The relevant Embassies, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, and Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training, must come forward and ensure their safety to ensure technical training of workers, an increase of employment opportunities, and protection and rights of migrant workers in line with the global market.

Migrant workers have been the biggest contributors to the country’s foreign exchange reserves during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching an all-time high of 48 billion. Last fiscal year, expatriates sent about 22 billion to the government. Bangladesh is one of the three countries in the world which was at the forefront of sending remittances. Bangladesh is now the eighth-largest country in the world in terms of remittance. In this case, workers, as well as the workers, have played a significant role.

The Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment is taking the unique initiative to ensure the employment of Bangladeshi nationals in different countries. The government is relentlessly trying to introduce closed foreign employment, strengthen existing employment, and create new jobs. Meanwhile, employment agreements have been signed in the UAE and Greece. It has also been performed recently with Malaysia, which has been in a state of stagnation for a long time.

The cost of Bangladeshi migrants going abroad is the highest in the world. But the income is lower than in all the countries in the world. 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. In 2013, there was a new law on immigrants. The new policy has been made in 2016. A new rule has been adopted in 2016. In 2016, a Welfare Act was approved. 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 the initiative to make the issue of expatriate welfare more purposively in every district so that the expatriate workers’ families can bring the desired service. It is essential to take these services at the district level.

Hiren Pandit is an essayist, researcher, and columnist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be reached at

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