Bangladesh is unfortunately one of the countries which have highest migrating cost. Bangladeshi migrant workers pay more and receive less in terms of income.
Stakeholders have called for efforts to reduce labour migration cost and make the process hassle-free as Bangladeshi workers pay more to get overseas jobs and earn less compared to major labour sourcing countries.
They opined at a roundtable discussion on Thursday (24 March) that Bangladesh is still not performing well in protecting the rights of its migrants at destination countries while neighbouring countries such as India, Nepal and Sri Lanka do not send their people abroad on hostile terms.
The discussion titled "Fair Recruitment: An Agenda for Action to Ensure Paradigm Shift in Labour Migration Sector" was jointly organised by the International LabourOrganisation (ILO) and The Business Standard.
The event was supported by the "Application of Migration Policy for Decent Work for Migrant Workers" project supported by the Government of Switzerland.
Editor, The Business Standard
The overseas employment from Bangladesh has the largest traction on our foreign earnings. But have we done enough for fair recruitment? We have seen plight of our women workers and they have been abused. Our workers suffered in the Malaysian forest without food and other basic needs. They were treated like slaves there.
We also have some bright example. A lot of domestic workers went to Hong Kong under G2G human resource export. They were doing very pretty well there. We have some laws to regulate the sector, but those are still not enough. Because of our demographic dividend, our labour migration will continue for quite some time. No other countries are going like us. Because, European and other countries have drained population.
This is the sector that is brining foreign currency at a large scale. So, the authorities should pay more attention to the "highly fragmented sector" so that Bangladeshi workers are recruited fairly for overseas jobs.
Chief imaginator, DataSense Chief Imaginator
Fair recruitment is carried out within the law, in line with international labour standards, with respect for human rights, without discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, national or legal status, with no cost to workers and with protection from exploitative situations. In contrast, some indicators that suggest unfair recruitment include threats and intimidation by the employers, verbal and psychological abuse, limited freedom of movement, retention of identity documents, physical and sexual violence, recruitment below working age and recruitment to hazardous and unsafe work.
According to government data, six to seven lakh Bangladeshis go abroad for jobs, especially in the Gulf States. The average migration cost for a Bangladeshi is Tk4.16 lakh as such migrants with only Tk23,093 monthly salary and require more than 17.6 months on average to recoup the migration cost. Middlemen and relatives often play a more crucial role than recruiting agencies.
The aspirant migrants have to pay the middlemen at home for document processing and other purposes, which ultimately push up migration costs. But the approach should be a no-cost-to-workers. Recognising middlemen in labour migration has to be ensured as legalising the brokers, which would help check overcharging and ensure labour safety abroad.
Md Shahidul Alam
Director general, Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET)
The recruiting agencies are not interested in recognising the middlemen, while the bureau looks toward bringing the brokers into formal registration. We are adopting a paradigm shift to accommodate qualitative changes to labour migration and develop an information database of the recruiting agencies. We made easy the pre-departure process for the aspirant migrants as earlier they were bound to show visa. I want to stress on acquiring technical education so that the country could become a source of a skilled labour force from the current unskilled labour sourcing destination.
The foreigners will recruit our workers if we can ensure their skills. In that case the migration cost would come down. But the reality is that we do not send our children for vocational education. Currently, thousands of students are completing their masters from the general education line. Many of them are being unemployed and most of those who are getting employed are being paid a salary equivalent to an SSC pass worker. Why so many people have to go to university? We need specific policy for this. We have to recognise the contribution of the recruiting agency despite all the criticism.
Deputy Secretary, Bangladesh Tourism Board
When we are talking about the recruitment process, we are not talking about a market or commodity. We are talking about the human being. So, often I hear from my friends and recruiting agencies that prices have to be fixed according to demand and supply. This is not the commodity market which will be fixed through demand and supply.
The solution that we should send more skilled workers that is also a stereotype. Because, recruitment process should be equal for everybody. If low skill workers face discrimination, then the system is not working.
It is not the fault of the limited skilled workers, it is the problem of our system. So, these stereotypes need to be broken. Besides, bureaucrats often said that due to high unemployment rate, our negotiation capacity is weak. Here, weak is also a stereotype. Because, after the Covid-19 situation, our bargaining power should have increased. So, having a weak negotiation capacity is our fault, not the unemployment rate.
Executive director, Ain O Salish Kendro
Labour migration has put a negative impact on creating social values. After going abroad, returnee migrants are bringing some of the elements of the cultures of the Middle-eastern countries, which are mostly extreme religious- such as keeping your women into house, wearing hizab or niqab. Another thing that is coming in our country is violence against women and children.
They are being abused in the destination countries in many ways, including sexual harassment. When they come at home, they also continue such misdeeds as they do not change. They also promote such abuses. Non-transparency is a most practicing sides in migration.
Here everything is done with a secrecy. The agencies or the middlemen ask for money telling the aspirant migrant to keep it secret. So, there is a lack of transparency here which has become a part of our social behaviour. However, the positive sides of the agencies could be highlighted through arranging different fairs.
Member, Labour Migration Group of National Coordination Committee on Workers Education
The government's responsibility is to monitor the issues concerning passport, medical, ticket and other services. But they have failed. There are cases against 32 lakh people, but it cannot be an obstacle for issuing them passport. There should be a registration centre for the aspirant migrants in the country.
If the teacher recruitment has a waiting list with registered candidates, then why not for aspirant migrants. The list would tell us about those who want to go abroad. Currently, around seven lakh people are going abroad every year. If each of them is paid Tk10,000 as subsidy, it would cost only Tk700 crore. It would not be hard to allocate the money from out Tk6 lakh crore budget.
Chairman, Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme
We must think what kind of migration we really expect? Is it quantitative migration or quality migration? So, that is the first thing if we talk about core paradigm shift in terms of fair recruitment processes. When it is considered from the perspective of quantitative migration, then it comes with visa trading issue. Because, everybody wants to buy visa and send number of migrant workers.
The achievement of the government or ministry often depends on the number of migrations, on the amount of remittances they are sending. So they actually calculate in that way in terms of the achievement of the government. So, it is the first thing we need to consider.
Bangladesh is unfortunately one of the countries which have highest migrating cost. Bangladeshi migrant workers pay more and receive less in terms of income, and that needs to change for achieving the paradigm shift in the labour migration sector. Ensuring 'fair recruitment' is a major agenda for action included in the 8FYP.
If we can ensure good governance, the invisible labour migration costs in different government levels can be avoided. Besides, honouring the recruiters and recognition of the middlemen can make the sector more transparent.
Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman
Former secretary general, Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira)
The people who are interested to go abroad have to face serious hassle to get a passport. If an aspirant migrant has a national identity card, why would he have to wait for at least one month for police clearance before the passport issuance? However, I underscored establishing one-stop service points for migrants and forming a coordination cell linking the government agencies concerned. I would like to say that visa trading is very common in destination which is a major reason behind high migration cost.
Head of Brac Migration Programme
The digitalisation of the whole migration sector should be the mandatory. In that case, if anyone want to go abroad, he or she needs to be registered. The government should make it clear that the recruiting agencies cannot send people abroad until they select the people from the database. If it is maintained for six months, the agencies will take people from the database.
Employers also can send their demand. So, automatically you don't need to go to middlemen. If we can ensure digitalisation in migration, both workers and employers will be equally benefited and more transparency will be ensured.
Syed Saiful Haque
Chairman, WARBE Development Foundation
The costly migration deters sending skilled workers abroad. There would be no skilled migration, if they need so much money to go abroad. Now, migrants have to buy air tickets in high prices in Bangladesh though it is cheaper in other neighboring countries. The government does not have any budget for the funding of the Wage Earners' Welfare Board, as the migrant workers are now paying for it.
According to a report of The Business Standard, 50% of the total migrant workers are from 10 districts from Bangladesh. We saw that the north part of our country is little behind in terms of labour migration though the government has all those TTCs and DEMOs over there as well.
Campaign initiatives should be taken by sharing the massage that migration would support them to develop their livelihood. Almost all the agencies are based in Dhaka. If recruiting agencies also operate from different districts parallels with the DEMOs, then the migrant workers would access them easily.
Gadget on Recruiting Agent Classification 2020, Migration Management Rules 2017, Overseas Employment & Migrants Act 2013 and Recruiting Agents Licensing and Behavioral Guideline 2019 rules, policies and laws need to be implemented effectively.
Migration policy specialist, ILO South Asia
Unfortunately, the recruitment agencies do not have trust with the workers. If recruiters want to change the perception that people have of them, they need to show and build trust. Leaders from trade unions and civil society organisations in Bangladesh constantly reiterated the importance of ratifying the migrant workers convention as a result of which it was finally ratified. Our role as stakeholders in fair recruitment is to consistently advocate for the protection of migrant workers.
The cost of medical test for migrants in the neighbouring countries is Tk10,000, while it is Tk13,000 in Bangladesh. Air ticket prices are two to three times higher than before the pandemic. In Nepal, India, Pakistan, the price of a ticket to the Middle East is Tk20,000-30,000, which is Tk70,000 to Tk90,000 here.
There is no one to control the airlines. But everybody is blaming the recruiting agencies. We are neglected and oppressed. We do not have any dignity. The syndicates in this sector are growing like viruses. Earlier, the Malaysian labour market was handed over to a syndicate of 10 agencies.
We have seen the consequences. Now, the authorities are trying to select 25 agencies. But it must be open to all. We want zero migration cost, and for this the syndicates have to be stopped. However, women workers are going abroad at zero cost.
If you want to know where the problem is in this sector, you have to work with the recruiting agencies. There are about 2,000 agencies working here. The government fee for getting a passport is Tk5,000 where the migrants have to pay Tk13,000 to Tk15,000. Why?
Why should the workers be harassed to get their passports? The fees are increasing a lot because of the middlemen. If the total cost of going abroad through us is Tk1.5 lakh to Tk2 lakh, it becomes Tk3 lakh due to the middlemen.
Joint secretary-general, Bangladesh Employers Federation
First of all, we need the paradigm shift in migration cost. Because, if the cost remain unchanged, we would not be able to take any actions. Unfortunately, till now, migration is happening by force, not by choice. The people who are going abroad, not going by their choice. They are bound to go abroad to earn money as unemployment rate is high in our country. Most of them are unskilled people. Better learning can ensure better earning. The more you learn, the more you earn.
Safer migration programme manager, Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh
Bangladesh cannot negotiate strongly with the destination countries. Why? We are the only country that sends female migrant workers to Saudi Arabia. I think that is a big problem. We think that if we argue with them, it would affect the sector. Political commitment is very important for the safety of female migrants to the destination countries. It is also very important to consider gender issue in migration.
Executive editor, The Business Standard
If we focus on the story of a former member of parliament named Papul, who was a manpower recruiter, we would understand the reasons behind the high migration cost. Middlemen are quick money maker. Most of them have no ethics. That is why they do not want any identity and want to hide themselves. Taken the facts, it is the government who sets all the rules. So, it is up to the government how do they bring them under regulations.
I would like to summarise the discussions. Today, we talked about the other paradigm shift that we have already achieved. We have to remove threats received by our migrants. We should not send our people in hostile terms and avoid restricting their movement. We should prevent syndication system of recruiting agencies to send workers, remove delays to get passport and control the high airfare. If we have NID cards, why should we not get passport within one day. We have to take care of high cost in tickets and medical tests. Since these people are going abroad and bring money for the nation, the government should consider facilitate their migration by keeping subsidies or whatever assistance they need.
We should prevent visa trading by middlemen or agents. The recruiters also must come to under assistance, because sometimes they are not getting help in an open system. The digitalisation of migration process including the database of aspirant migrants has to be ensured, so that cost of migration would decrease. Bangladesh should take pro-migrant workers position while it negotiates with target countries. If Nepal can dismiss unfair proposition, why cannot Bangladesh do the same? Because, we are in a much better position.
We have to encourage migrants to send money through formal channel. Finally, we have to cut high migration cost and ensure recognition of middlemen. Besides, we have to create coordination cell among ministries, authorities involved in labour migration.