Dr Forqan Uddin Ahmed
Migration is one of the significant instruments for globalisation. Over the last decade, migration of labour has seen a remarkable increase in a global context. Labour-migration has long been playing a crucial role in increasing overseas employment and alleviating poverty in Bangladesh. For countries like Bangladesh, labour migration plays a crucial role in fuelling GDP and attaining economic growth.
Manpower export has been increasing since 1976 in Bangladesh. The number of migrant workers was 6087 in 1976 but at present it stands at 8.7 million. Such a growth in the number of migrant worker reflects the significance of remittances as one of the main sources of foreign exchange earnings in Bangladesh. Remittance contributes towards increasing the income of households and thereby standard of living. It also increases investment in human capital, household consumption and stimulates savings and investment in general. At the household levels, remittances are used for meeting basic needs and other family expenses. Remittances have both direct and indirect impacts on micro and macro level economics. The direct contributions of remittances to national income have grown rapidly in the past decade. Remittances have contributed to increasing foreign exchange reserve of Bangladesh which is now stands at over USD 21 billion, 7 times higher than the foreign exchange reserve of the year 2005.
We have a large unemployed labor force in our country. Unemployment is a chronic problem in Bangladesh and it is possible to solve this problem to a great extent by exporting manpower. Manpower export is a tool for increasing foreign exchange earnings and thereby increasing the national income and growth. Remittance has become a dominant variable for economic development of Bangladesh. Recognizing the importance of remittance and migration, the policy makers and the researchers should become more attentive to this particular issue.
Our migrant workers are not only remitting their savings to Bangladesh, but they are also contributing to the economy of their host countries. In fact, those countries are benefitting from these migrant workers. But it is saddening to note that these workers are often neglected by the host countries. Often they are also exploited by the middlemen. The migrant workers who travel illegally with the help of unscrupulous agents suffer the most.
An exploitation-free migration process can save the migrant workers to a great extent. The mechanism (G to G) introduced for Malaysia in 2012 was totally exploitation free, but it did not endure because of the manpower agents and some dishonest employers. In this regard, International Organization for Migrants (IOM) can take an initiative to formulate an exploitation free migrant-friendly recruitment mechanism that could be followed by all concerned countries.
The major portion of our population is working in Gulf countries like Libya, Iraq and Malaysia. IOM should continue its efforts to make these countries agree to sign and ratify The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. There should be bilateral arrangements in the migration process so that the host countries are obliged to respect the human rights of migrant workers as prescribed in the UN convention.
Bangladesh usually sends female workers, mostly for domestic works, to the Gulf countries. And unfortunately, our female workers are coming back every month with dreadful experiences of sexual or physical abuse. As long as migration is a continuous process, the sufferings of migrant workers would also continue, if necessary measures are not taken to stop these. In this regard, the UN should device an institutional mechanism to address these problems.
Considering all above, IOM should formulate a standard ‘Employment Contract’ and the terms and conditions of that contract should be based on the following points- (a) Amount of wage and overtime; (b) Working hours; (c) Holidays; (d) Lodging and boarding; (e) Passage (both ways); (f) Cost for treatment/health insurance; (g) Protection from all kinds of physical/mental torture, sexual abuse and misbehave; (h) Punishment for non-payment, sexual abuse and physical/mental torture according to the local laws; (i) Payment of the local taxes; (j) Compensation for accident as per gravity; and (k) Respect to all terms and conditions specified in various international conventions and agreements on this matter.
Migrant workers are human beings like everyone else. They deserve proper respect and protection. Hence, the concerned countries and organizations should sincerely work to streamline the migration process so that the rights of migrant workers are protected.
Migrants’ remittances are now a development alternative for Bangladesh. Manpower export and earning remittance contributed a lot to our development. It needs no emphasizing that the country’s economy would be greatly affected if the remittance earnings do not continue at the prevailing rate. Exploitation of new labor markets is mostly needed for increasing manpower export. There are disparities of migration among divisions and districts of the countries. To control the illegal activities of the brokers and recruiting agents, necessary laws should be implemented. The foreign embassies of Bangladesh should integrate necessary actions to solve the problems of migrant workers in destination countries.
Dr Forqan Uddin Ahmed is a columnist