That the Bangladeshi workers are often subjected to maltreatment in their overseas workplaces is not at all a secret these days. Longer work hours, poor accommodation, lack of medicare, verbal and physical abuses etc have allegedly been part of the work culture in some countries, especially those in the Gulf region. Added to these, wage stealing has now emerged as a new phenomenon. Bangladeshi migrants working in the Gulf states are being cheated by way of wage theft by their employers. A study conducted in this regard delved deep into the matter and has come out with appalling details of the extent of the foul play at the expense of the misery of the poor workers. The pathetic part of the narrative is that this is happening to workers who have gone to their respective work destinations legally with valid documents including job contracts.
The study team on 'Addressing Systemic Challenges of Wage Theft: Bangladesh COVID-19 Returnees from the Gulf States' interviewed well over a thousand returnee migrant workers of 45 districts of the country during the period between March 25 and May 06 this year. Despite having proper visas and work permits, the study finds, the employers forced as many as 63 per cent of the workers to return home when their jobs were arbitrarily terminated and visas cancelled. The state-sponsored repatriation process could not ensure that the workers lodged claims for their unpaid entitlements. The study also found that about 48.6 per cent of the workers lost jobs. On the other hand, 38.7per cent experienced reduced wages. Of them, 41.7 per cent male workers reported a cut in the wages while 19.7 per cent of female workers experienced such consequences.
The average figure of wage theft stood at $2,287 per male returnee and in case of female worker $1,144. The study findings were shared at a virtual consultation, jointly organised by Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) and Bangladesh Civil Society of Migrants (BCSM).
Not only in the Gulf states, the situation is not far different in the unlikeliest of places like Singapore. Several thousand Bangladeshi workers who went there with valid documents were forced to return home in the past months as the Singaporean labour-supplying companies allegedly cheated them by not arranging jobs for months. It has been reported that swindling of workers in Singapore was the machination of manpower-business syndicates in both Bangladesh and Singapore.
Stealing wages is the starkest of the plights suffered by the migrant workers. What is intriguing is the failure of the state agency responsible for workers' migration in securing the workers' rights as per job contracts. So long, there were allegations of swindling due to migration through private channels, and hence all concerned stressed the need for state involvement in the process. But has it produced anything to protect the workers? Isn't it extremely important that the government take up the issue with the host countries through the embassies in right earnest?