Written by: Adiba Tahsin
It has been 50 years since the independence of Bangladesh, and it is crucial to take a close look at the policies made in the past and study which of them were fruitful and which of them needs to be reformed. YPF has launched the series “Road to Reforms” to produce a Youth-led reform matrix that would fuel a paradigm shift in Bangladesh. Under this series, a webinar was hosted named “Towards a new social contract: Safe and Better migration.”
The webinar was hosted by Puspita Hossain, a YPF core team member. The panel consisted of Shirin Lira and Marina Sultana, YPF Senior Fellow ( Safe Migration and Development), and Tanvir Shakil Joy MP ( Member of Parliamentary caucus of Migration and Development. In the webinar, issues like the safety of migrant workers, job security, middleman interference were brought into the limelight.
The status quo of the migrant workers was discussed by the panelists Shirin Lira and Marina Sultana at the beginning of the webinar.
Shirin Lira said, “The economy of Bangladesh did not face a setback during the Covid-19 pandemic because of the remittance sent by the migrant workers. But there are challenges in the labor migration system of Bangladesh which include: the question of fair recruitment of the laborers and training them, market research for better pay scales of the laborers, and dealing with the violence female labor migrants face during their stay abroad.” She also added that the recruitment process is not fair and way more expensive than the original cost set by the government. The actual charge is usually 1.5 lacs, but the workers must pay around 6-8 lacs to the recruiting agencies/middlemen. Despite all these, the question remains: are we providing adequate resources to cater to the needs of these people workers?
Question 1: How and to whom can the workers report complaints instantly? How can it be monitored whether female workers are getting proper wages and are not getting assaulted?
Marina Sultana – We have Government institutions BMET, around 1600 recruiting agencies, BOESL, but middlemen play a huge role in the recruitment process because they bring these workers from the grassroots level. The cost of migration varies from country to country, and the amount is fixed. Also, the domestic workers can go for free because their recruiter is already paying the amount, but still, only because middlemen have to pay more money. The main problem is the lack of information discourse to the workers because they don’t know about their services. After going to the country, the only guardian of these migrants is the embassy. The workers don’t know how to seek help from the embassies. They cannot even communicate in English to the embassy officers. There are fewer people in those embassies to connect to migrant workers. Most of the migrants going to the Middle East are Domestic workers who do not fall under the labor rights plan, and they work in a closed environment thus, making it less accessible to talk to them.
Shirin Lira: Most of the female workers are either divorcees, widows, or single mothers. There is a stigma about women going abroad alone, so they go to another district to train. “Hostel System” is essential for female workers because they want to come back to a haven at the end of the day. Both male and female workers should feel empowered and know that they have the right to speak up against any violence. Female staff should be increased in countries like Saudi Arabia where female workers are more. Budget Allocation by the government is not made according to the number of workers in each country. After a worker returns, the skill they gain should be certified to make it easier for them to get jobs here.
Tanvir Shakil Joy: Even after the modernization of transport, the families of migrant workers still have fear. As the workers invest a considerable sum of money( by selling property), they can’t return whenever they want to, even if they are tormented. It is a one-way trip for them.
Question 2: How to ensure transparency of embassies? To what extent is the embassy responsible and accountable for the safety of workers?
Tanvir Shakil Joy: We need to carefully determine where to send the workers depending on the country’s skill demand. An embassy’s labor wing needs to be the strongest. The officers should have diplomatic knowledge from the foreign ministry. In the Middle East, there will be hindrances because their mindsets can’t be changed overnight. We can, though, try to mitigate those difficulties. Singapore has way better working conditions.
Shirin Lira: We need to develop alternative markets. We can talk to IOM, ILO, or countries like the Philippines about providing security to the workers. Community organization between migrants should be encouraged so that they have a platform. Leveraging Technology can be an alternative to address manpower limitations in embassies. Market exploration, market research, relationship building, outsourcing skills are essential to be learned.
Question 3: Can we question the host country for returning workers as victims of violence and assault?
Tanvir Shakil Joy: Our country has embassies, so there is an opportunity to contact and question the host country. Recruiting agencies to play a massive role in the migration system requires a bilateral agreement between private agencies and the government. We also need to approach the host country’s ministry.
Marina Sultana: A negotiation has to be made so that the worker gets their deserved rights. Legal support should be there from the host country and an agreement between two countries to provide the best possible security to the workers. We need to ensure the workers have the basic knowledge about the process as the misinformation from middlemen makes the workers more vulnerable.
Question 4: To prevent fraudulence, how can we detect the work of recruiting agencies?
Marina Sultana: Recruitment agencies should be regulated by bringing them under one single entity- providing them IDs.
Shirin Lira: A healthy migration system can’t be maintained by keeping the middlemen invisible. The host country should regularize sub-agents so that we can hold them accountable.