Ethical recruitment of migrant workers  

Shahiduzzaman Khan       | Published: December 01, 2018 22:29:43


As the migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation in different ways and stages, a move is now underway by the Bangladesh government to ensure international standardisation of manpower recruitment agencies.

Such an initiative basing on the International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS) of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is aimed at facilitating an ethical recruitment system for workers willing to go abroad.

There is no denying that the country's migrant workers have to confront different types of problems, including extra migration cost, non-payment of wages, abuses, and unpleasant working environment etc.

They also suffer from lack of access to justice, employer-specific work permits, fear of deportation, and language and cultural barriers. They also have little bargaining power in terms of wages they get.

In order to address such problems, the UN agency for migrants wants to see reflection of the new rule in the classification and recruitment procedures of the migrants here to make it an internationally-recognised one.

IRIS is, to mention, a social compliance scheme that is designed to promote ethical international recruitment.  It works by defining and setting a benchmark for ethical recruitment, and through establishing a voluntary certification scheme for ethical labour recruiters, and compliance and monitoring mechanism.

The IRIS Standard has been developed through extensive consultation with stakeholder and expert communities and is based on international human rights instruments and labour standards such as UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity, as well as, recruitment industry best practices.

It is designed to serve as a practical tool and guidance for enabling labour recruiters and employers to integrate ethical recruitment principles into recruitment related management systems, procedures, codes of conduct, and social sustainability initiatives.

The country's current recruitment model is more or less focused on the employers rather than the workers. In most cases, the recruitment agencies take huge amount of money from the workers, which are supposed to be provided by the employers in the receiving countries. When several agencies and brokers are involved in the recruitment process, it causes further rise in fees and costs for the workers. This is a common scenario in Bangladesh.

Meantime, the country's human rights activists demanded that the international recruiting agencies and employers should maintain the highest ethical standards by ensuring protection of labour in all the stages starting from recruitment to repatriation.

The employers must bear the migration costs and the migrants, based on their work, should be ensured equal pay, access to health and safety facilities, they said. The global brands and governments must put pressure on the labour receiving countries, which are deviant from global standards, to run a decent recruitment industry.

It is the first and foremost responsibility of the states to ensure human rights. But the states alone can not do it without supportive role of the recruitment agencies and global brands.

Businesses, for their own interest, not only have to ensure a safe and responsible recruitment but also a safe return. Job contracts should have clauses for repatriation -- a fact which the government needs to address in bilateral agreements.

It is gratifying to note that many countries around the world are working hard to highlight the positive contributions of migrant workers in global development. These nations are trying their best to protect the rights of migrants in all stages of migration and take steps to enhance the developmental outcomes of migration. Bangladesh should act also in the same direction.

Most migrant sending countries say fair and ethical recruitment should be the basis of all multilateral, regional and bilateral frameworks. They called for guaranteeing transparency and accountability and effective cooperation between states of origin and destination in labour recruitment.

The issue of lowering the cost of migration is being discussed in both labour sending and receiving countries for a long time. Concerted effort needs to be made to attain zero cost of migration as stipulated in ILO Convention.

In the absence of a global regime, migration issue is being governed under dual jurisdiction of origin and destination countries until now. This inhibits migrants enjoying decent labour standards. Negotiations between origin and destination countries are mostly bilateral. Migration governance requires development of a proper migration system.

Despite continuous awareness campaigns by the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil societies and government agencies, irregular migration has been a major concern. The boat migration to South-East Asian countries particularly to Malaysia and Thailand became a dangerous phenomenon which has been termed as 'slave trade' in migration era over the years of 2014 and 2015.

In promoting migration, Bangladesh has, nevertheless, achieved  substantial achievements in the international arena. It has also been successful in making a breakthrough in re-entering some of its traditional markets. After going through a strenuous process for some years, it has been successful in increasing its annual labour flow to the overseas countries.

About 12 million of its people are now staying abroad. There is a need for creating public awareness so that migrant workers are not cheated. Many problems of labour migration could be solved if the middlemen were brought under a legal framework. It is obvious that there are certain problems. These problems need to be identified and those who are responsible have to be brought to book. The government should take appropriate steps against the people involved in fraudulence.

According to migration analysts, the governments should humanise the global migration process by ensuring rights, dignity and safety of the migrants and stopping identity-politics and hate speeches. Undertaking a people-first rights-based approach is essential for developing a broad framework for addressing root causes of migration.

The need of the hour is, however, a rights-based comprehensive approach placing the human rights of migrants at the centre of the discussion to halt and roll back overall deterioration of treatment of migrant workers.

In following the IRIS rules, the government may classify the recruitment agents in various grades, which can be done basing on evaluation of the conditions that must be met by the recruitment agents. Also, there is a need to ensure good governance without which the proposed classification system will not be an effective tool.   

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