Legal support for returnee maids    

Published: January 01, 2019 22:21:22 | Updated: January 03, 2019 22:18:19


Many of our migrant women workers  end up facing double jeopardy: Once in their place of work going through the mill of  a  hostile environ; and thence having been    driven by  exploitation, even traumatised  by the host,  they arrive back home pauperised.

The two sets of circumstances have a cause-and-effect relationship, and may admit of preventative approach to reduce the incidence of the ordeal for the domestic helps. Since the cause is, by and large,  rooted in the host country  and   the fallout, in the shape of returnees,  is faced  by the sending  country, the latter is obliged  to respond to the challenge as a matter of right. It should take legal  recourse  to  mitigating  the  plight of  the  laid-off  workers  or  those otherwise escaping exploitative work environs.

The predicament is not unique to our female workers overseas though. Other countries like Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Philippines have had to deal with it in varying degrees. In fact, a few countries had stopped sending women workers to certain Middle East countries before resuming under reformed protective terms later on.    So, the best practice methods are available  in terms of crafting deals and contractual arrangements for assured payment of  compensation and other benefits in the event of  severance and voluntary release from  employment.

Let's look up close at the destination-end.  It is disconcerting to note that 'women are deprived of justice as not a single case has been filed yet against the employers on charge of torturing their maids.' Secondly,   based on allegations of returnee workers it is revealed that instead of giving legal support to the complainants, police would rather arrest them on different charges.

 Turning to our missions for help brings little solace. Since there is no dearth of case studies, picking one to secure redress of a legitimate grievance would have set a precedent to replicate on, much to the service relief of the workers - they would have felt being taken under the wings. 

Actually, there are multiple  dimensions to  the issue:  Gender-sensitive, human rights and  normative  aspects of migration. But we tend to concentrate on  one or the  other  aspect  without  approaching  the question  holistically. What's more to the point, and potentially problem-solving is utilising the existing instruments of law in defence of the workers' rights.

Particularly disquieting is the fact that  whilst different laws and  arbitration systems  exist in the host country, 'victim women'  fail  to get benefits  that are due to them as the offenders have had their safety ensured invoking the legal instruments beforehand. This is denial of justice to migrant workers by using home advantage. It   is inhospitable to the   foreign women employees   working for the economy because efficient house-keeping leaves spouses the vital support-base to serve profitably in the greater arena of life.

It is not a salubrious sign of engagement in what is essentially a two-way traffic, viz. sending workers and reaping benefits from their service. These must mutually be advantageous and therefore respectful of    each other. The tidings, however, speak of at least 1500 maids from Saudi Arabia returning to Bangladesh in 2018. Women came back home from other countries like Lebanon, UAE and Oman.

Returnee workers do not only have harrowing tales to tell of their stints abroad but also of their experience on return. They went for economic gains, sent in whatever remittance they could; but now they have landed with the burden of loans, family conflicts, separation and agonies, social exclusion and disputes over land and assets.

The  government  needs to get a move on in concert with right-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs)  on  three   agendas: Rehabilitate them, if necessary, with retraining; obtain compensation in terms of the Overseas Employment  and Migration Act, 2013 and  invoke arbitration  in  appropriate  cases to build a  legacy in remedial justice. 

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