- Domestic workers are allowed to switch employers without their consent
- Saudi Arabia has employed 4.34 lakh Bangladeshi women – over 41% of total female migrants from the country
- 200 Bangladeshi female migrants died in Saudi Arabia from 2016 to 2020
A recent change in Saudi Arabia's labour regulations allowing domestic workers to change employers independently of the previous employers' consent promises better prospects for Bangladeshi female migrant workers, many of whom languish in poor work environments in the gulf country.
The fresh development aims to improve the workplace atmosphere by preventing the torture and oppression of workers by employers, said stakeholders.
Saudi Arabia had recently brought in ten cases that would allow the transfer of domestic workers' services without requiring the employer's consent, including non-payment of wages and the assignment of dangerous or potentially hazardous tasks.
Later it added two new scenarios: when the employer transfers the worker's services to a different employer without the worker's consent, and secondly, upon the termination of the labour contract by the employer during the probation period, reported Saudi Gazette on 9 August this year.
Dr Awwad Alawwad, president and chairman of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of the National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Saudi Arabia, said these reforms under Vision 2030 are an example of a carefully crafted policy that provides millions of foreign workers in the Kingdom with increased job mobility, freedom of movement, and enhanced labour rights under the Saudi law.
Asif Munier, a migration expert, expressed cautious optimism regarding the measures. He told The Business Standard, "In principle, it is a good development, but its success will depend on how much the regulation is implemented. Proper monitoring by the Saudi authority as well as by the Bangladesh mission is needed to facilitate the domestic workers there.
"If the employer is abusive, he will not release the worker. We have to keep in mind that most of the Bangladeshi female workers are uneducated. They do not have much negotiation capacity with the employers," he added.
He stressed a raising of awareness among the female migrant workers regarding the whole issue so that they can utilise the facility.
Agreeing with Munier, Warbe Development Foundation Chairman Syed Saiful Haque told TBS, "Once domestic workers enter a home for work, they usually have little scope to leave the place. So we have to wait to see how much they will be able to utilise the scope of changing employers.
Md Shahidul Alam, director general of the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), told TBS, "Bangladeshi female migrants are mainly employed as domestic workers. With the new regulation, female workers will get some liberty."
According to the Migrant Welfare Desk at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, five lakh expatriates returned during the pandemic, around 50,000 of whom were women.
Around 52% of female migrants who returned amid the Covid-19 pandemic were tortured or harassed at their workplaces in destination countries, finds a recent study of the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit (RMMRU).
Among them, 35% were physically tortured, 52.2% were psychologically harassed and 11% were sexually abused at the destination countries.
Many women started going abroad, followed by an agreement between Bangladesh and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in 2015.
According to the BMET, 4.34 lakh female workers went to Saudi Arabia, which is more than 41% of the total female migration.
According to both government and non-government data, thousands of Bangladeshi women migrant workers have had to return home empty-handed, especially from the Middle East, after facing torture.
At least 487 migrant workers have returned home in coffins from 2016 to 2020. Of them, 200 women died in Saudi Arabia alone.
Among them, 86 female expatriates committed suicide, 167 died from stroke, 71 died in road accidents, 115 died naturally, 48 by other causes, and two were murdered, according to the Brac Migration Programme.
The employers in many cases mention "suicide" as the cause of death, but the families of the deceased often claim that their nearest one was tortured to death.
In a landmark verdict on 14 February 2021, a Saudi Arabia court handed down the death penalty to a Saudi woman – and gave different sentences to her husband and son – in a case over the murder of Bangladeshi migrant worker Abiron Begum who died in 2017.