Hurdles, financial or otherwise, that the Bangladeshi migrant workers very often face are known, courtesy of media and rights organisations.
The government from time to time has taken steps to mitigate their sufferings. It would be unfair to say that the measures have not produced any results or reduced the plight of the people leaving the country with jobs in other countries. Some actions of the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) have lessened, to some extent, the sufferings of the outbound workers, but fraudulent activities on the part of a section of unscrupulous manpower recruiters or their agents are still taking a toll on poor jobseekers.
However, a part of the blame goes to the workers themselves, for they have a propensity to keep everything secret, in most cases, in accordance with the suggestions given by dishonest recruiters or their agents. Such practices are found to be particularly true in the recruitment against job demands coming from fake employers.
There were chilling stories about how many workers of fraudulent recruitments were killed in terrible conditions or ending up in jails in other countries. It is not that Bangladeshi migrants are the only victims. Many others from poor countries in Asia and Africa are subjected to such sufferings by human traffickers.
Against this backdrop, the findings of a research study have revealed another unpalatable fact about the Bangladeshi migrant workers. The study, prepared by the BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) and presented at a national consultation on Saturday last in Dhaka, said Bangladeshi overseas jobseekers pay more to earn less from their jobs abroad.
The study said the amount the private sector recruiters take from the jobseekers are far bigger than what the government agency concerned fixes from time to time, from country to country.
Anyone recruited by the Bangladesh Overseas Employment Services Limited, a government recruiting agency, is required to pay an amount far less than a private recruiter would charge him or her.
Nobody expects that the private recruiters would charge fees equivalent to that of BOESL. But the former usually ask the jobseekers to pay three to five times more than that of the BOESL. They have been doing it for decades with total impunity. However, one would find the jobseekers also very secretive about the entire recruitment process. This could be out of the fear of losing the opportunity to go abroad.
It is true that employers, particularly those in the Middle Eastern (ME) countries, are now offering far less than before to both skilled and unskilled jobseekers, primarily because of the drastic fall in their revenue earning from oil exports. The decline in wages is greater in the case of unskilled workers. The majority of workers going from Bangladesh to the ME are obviously unskilled.
Under the circumstances, many Bangladeshi migrant workers, who had paid large amounts to private recruiters, might not be able even to recover the cost they would incur on foreign employment. The extension of job contracts could only help them to earn a little bit more than money spent on their employment.
The decline in wages of the migrant workers, particularly in the Gulf countries, has started leaving a negative impact on the country's inflow of remittances in recent months. For the past few months there had been a notable decline in remittance earning despite an increase in the outflow of manpower to the Gulf countries because of the withdrawal of ban on recruitment of Bangladeshi workers by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and recruitment of large number of workers by Qatar that would host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Qatar is employing a large number of construction workers to build the necessary infrastructures for the football tournament.
The basic reason for Bangladeshi workers being exploited both at home and abroad is that they are not skilled. This particular fact has been uttered a million times from different corners, but the situation has not improved. Both workers and the government are to blame for this shortcoming. Not many workers are found interested to be trained in vocations that are in high demand in the ME or other countries. The government, on the other hand, until recently was not serious about improving the skill level of the workers. The government, of late, has initiated a number of steps to improve the skill level of the population and put in place a number of schemes in this connection.
It is expected that those involved in the skill development initiatives would not consider the latest thrust of the policymakers on skill development just a routine affair. Since the issue is an important one in the context of national interest, it deserves unalloyed attention. However, the objectives of skill development cannot be met by setting up a few training institutes. Something more needs to be done. The education system should undergo a thorough change to ensure meeting of both high-end and low-end skills.