As an existing insurance scheme is of little help to expatriate workers, the state-owned Jiban Bima Corporation is now set to engage a Saudi Arabian company to insure all Bangladeshis working in the Middle East against deaths and workplace injuries.
Only nominees of workers who died abroad got the benefit of the Expatriate Workers' Insurance (Probashi Kormi Bima), the two-year tenure of which is going to end later this month. No migrant worker with an injury from a workplace accident got any compensation.
According to Jiban Bima Corporation, 6,04,697 expatriate workers registered for the insurance policy till October this year and deposited Tk40.24 crore as premium. The corporation has paid only Tk1.22 crore to the families of 54 dead migrant workers.
In December 2019, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the mandatory scheme to compensate the families of migrant workers who died abroad and to ensure medical treatment of injured workers.
As per the insurance policy, an expatriate worker would get a coverage of Tk4 lakh with a premium of Tk490.
But the new scheme, proposed by a Saudi Arabian company, would require a premium of Tk4,500 to get a coverage of Tk10 lakh for death risk. Treatment in hospital for 20 major diseases, accident related loss of limbs or disabilities, and the cost of shipping a body home will also be covered by the proposed insurance.
As per the insurance policy, expatriate workers are entitled to full benefit within the term of the insurance in case of any accident or within 90 days of the expiration of the policy.
Officials of Jiban Bima Corporation said the state-owned insurance company is set to finalise an agreement with a delegation of Saudi Arabian Cooperative Insurance Company (Saico) in December in Dhaka.
"The premium offered by Saico is much higher. We have asked them to reduce it. Their delegation will finalise the issue after visiting Bangladesh," Jahurul Haque, managing director of Jiban Bima Corporation, told TBS.
Meanwhile, the Financial Institutions Division of the finance ministry in November held a meeting to take stock of the existing insurance scheme for expatriates and look for ways to make it more effective with wider coverage.
It stressed that the corporation needs to widen the coverage of the scheme with more products and open help-desks in Gulf countries to reach Bangladeshi expatriates as they cannot make any claim for injuries because there are no service points.
According to a brief prepared by the finance ministry's insurance wing, expatriates are not interested in renewing their insurance policies as the existing scheme could not ensure insurance facilities for the treatment of the injured workers abroad.
There is no accurate information on the number of migrant workers accident injuries in workplaces each year. An official of the Brac Migration Programme, however, said the number is around 5,000.
Bangladesh receives the highest amount of remittance annually from Saudi Arabia, the source of $6.33 billion, accounting for about a fourth of total remittance inflow in the last fiscal year. United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain are among top 10 sources of Bangladesh's remittance earning.
The Middle East is home to over 50 lakh Bangladeshi expatriates or 80% of Bangladeshis working abroad.
Jiban Bima Corporation officials have told The Business Standard that no injured expatriate has yet applied for compensation. Compensations are being paid for the deceased workers on the basis of information received from the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, they added.
They further said there is no helpdesk of Jiban Bima Corporation in the embassies of Bangladesh in those countries. As a result, the expatriates are without a clue where to apply for insurance benefits.
"Even if someone applies to the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare or the Jiban Bima Corporation, there is no way to verify whether the applicant has been injured in an accident at work," said an official.
Jahurul Haque, managing director of Jiban Bima Corporation, told TBS, "It is not yet time to evaluate the insurance scheme. The corporation is trying to provide proper services to the expatriates."
A meeting was held to provide full insurance benefits to Bangladeshi workers working in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. Abdullah Harun Pasha, additional secretary of the Financial Institutions Division, Ministry of Finance, presided over the meeting.
He said in the meeting that so far, the authorities have paid insurance money only for death claims. No application for accidental injuries has been placed due to lack of necessary publicity about the benefits of Expatriate Worker Insurance and lack of help desks in the countries concerned.
He suggested at the meeting to open life insurance corporation help desks in the Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia in future.
Professor CR Abrar, executive director of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (Ramru), told TBS that in order to accomplish any innovative project, all kinds of rules and regulations have to be finalised in advance and the way how the intended beneficiaries will benefit from the project has to be precise.
Similar steps should have been taken in the case of insurance for expatriate employees, he said, adding a massive publicity initiative was required for making it easier for the expatriates to avail the benefits under this insurance scheme.
"If the expatriates who are injured and become disabled do not get insurance benefits, the premium that the government is paying in the interest of the expatriates and the premium that is being taken from the expatriates will not be of any use," he said.
Asked if taking Tk4,500 from expatriates in the proposed insurance scheme would increase the cost of travel abroad, the former professor of international relations at Dhaka University said, "Insurance should never be compulsory. All types of insurance are optional worldwide. Insurance for expatriates also should be optional."
He went on to say there should be bilateral talks with Saudi companies as well as extensive discussions with the ministries and other stakeholders concerned to introduce new insurance for expatriates.
He also stressed the need for monitoring whether expatriates are getting all the insurance benefits easily and properly.
Shariful Hasan, head of Brac's migration programme, told The Business Standard, "The Covid-19 pandemic started during the introduction of expatriate worker insurance. Despite this, all the nominees of the deceased expatriate workers are getting insurance benefits. We need to find out the reasons why nobody is claiming insurance benefits for injuries and loss of limbs due to accidents."
Jiban Bima wants to increase premium
Meanwhile, Jiban Bima Corporation wants to bring all expatriate workers under insurance coverage. Currently, only those who have gone abroad since the introduction of the insurance on 19 December 2019 are covered by insurance.
The corporation has proposed fixing separate premiums for two age groups among the workers keeping all the benefits of the insurance unchanged. The company has recently sent a letter to the expatriates' welfare ministry in this regard.
At present, the premium for expatriate worker insurance is Tk990 for all, of which expatriates pay Tk490, while the remaining Tk500 is paid by the Wage Earners' Welfare Board.
The corporation has proposed to increase the insurance premium to Tk600 for expatriates aged between 18-40 years and Tk800 for those who are 41-58 years of age.
The corporation said the premium should be increased as the risk of death of workers is comparatively higher due to the Covid-19 pandemic.