It is indeed a good news that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has finally withdrawn a six-year ban on manpower recruitment from Bangladesh. The oil-rich Gulf country had imposed the ban following widespread malpractices allegedly being done by a section of local manpower brokers in connivance with their overseas agents in respect of recruitment of Bangladeshi workers,
The government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoE0 with the UAE in this regard last week. Local jobseekers can now get jobs in the Gulf state after a long period of time. Initially, private sector will recruit them and eventually public sector will be allowed to hire. Under the agreement, the UAE will recruit Bangladeshi citizens in 19 categories. The categories, according to reports, include labourer, sailor, watchman, shepherd, falconer, housekeeper, cook, nanny, farmer, gardener, private trainer, private tutor, farm supervisor and private driver.
Under the MoU, the employment contract for local workers will include job description, salary and other benefits like food, accommodation and transport. The salary will be paid following the UAE's Wages Protection System. The government believes migrants going there, one of the major job destinations in the Middle East for local workers, will be better protected under the law of the country.
The recruitment office in the UAE is reportedly sending offer letters along with all the terms of employment contract to job seekers in Bangladesh. Both countries agreed to cooperate in documenting the costs related to recruitment and employment of Bangladeshi workers. They have also agreed to cooperate in raising awareness among workers about hiring guidelines before and after their arrival to the UAE.
Earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid a visit to the Emirates last year with a large contingent of ministers, high government officials and business leaders. Her visit came after eight years since the then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia paid a state visit to the UAE in 2006. During her visit, several deals were signed. But the issue of reopening labour market there remained unresolved.
The Bangladesh delegation tried its best to convince UAE entrepreneurs to invest here as many the investors of the country had shown immense interest in investing in the country's gas pipeline, refinery, fertiliser, port development and power sector. The UAE is, at present, the fifth largest investing country in Bangladesh with $2.5 billion total investment in telecommunications, banking, ceramic, chemicals and textiles. Besides, it is also the second biggest destination of Bangladeshi workers.
The fact remains that Bangladesh is one of the major exporters of unskilled and semi-skilled workers in the Middle East and Southeast Asian countries. In recent times, the country is also sending women workforce to a number of Gulf countries. However, many of them alleged that they were treated like modern day slaves by their employers.
Without reopening job market fully for local workers, the UAE had moved earlier for hiring exclusively female domestic workers from Bangladesh after three years of the labour ban. As per agreement signed in 2014, the UAE employed 1,000 female workers from Bangladesh every month mostly in the category of domestic help, cook, nanny, gardeners, drivers etc. In 2016, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also sent a request to Bangladesh to recruit 400,000 workers from Bangladesh, almpost half of whom female domestic workers.
The government had earlier instructed the recruiting agencies to recruit and send 200 female workers before sending any male to the Gulf countries. After sending 200 female workers, each recruiting agency was further required to send two female workers for every male worker. The government was reported to have gone for zero-cost migration for the female workers as the authorities, recruiting agencies and employers were supposed to bear all the expenditures for training, visa processing and travelling to the countries of employment.
In spite of such encouraging initiatives, some bad elements in the recruitment process found out loopholes in it. Aspiring female workers allegedly had to pay Tk 80,000 to Tk 100,000 to the middleman to get 'selected' by the government officials or to reach recruiting agencies overseas.
There are many countries which are considering introducing new provisions regulating the entry, exit and residency requirements for all workers in the country they migrate to. But until those substantive changes take place, all workers including women domestic workers have to work under the Kafala system in the Gulf countries - a system that reinforces the dependency and the power imbalance between employers and migrant domestic workers. Many women workers alleged that they were sexually abused and these cases go mostly unreported.
High migration costs in overseas recruitment have, in fact, been eating up the benefits of migration. The migrant workers are constrained to overstay their contracted periods thinking they will be able to repay their debts in addition to remitting money to the country after meeting their subsistence costs. That is exactly why they turn illegal migrants -- virtual fugitives from the law.
The government needs to develop an institutional mechanism to minimise the influence of the intermediaries. The government agencies should offer better institutional support for upgrading skills of overseas job-seekers and low-cost loan support for migration.
Bangladesh's diplomatic missions in those countries can play a vital role. These missions should be equipped with a legal wing to support the victims in the labour court, a media wing to brief the media about the violation of their rights and a welfare wing to arrange compensation and rehabilitation for the victims.
With the reopening of job market in the UAE, Bangladesh needs to move ahead with the agenda of exporting more manpower to the Middle-East to boost remittance inflows. It should also take issue of female workers' abuse seriously and take appropriate actions in order to ensure their safety and dignity in work places and their safe return.
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