Wages Earners’ Treats and Retreats- Who are to be Responsible
All economic players should be treated with respect and dignity equitably, which is not the case for Wages earners, poor fellas in Bangladesh.
Wages earners’ treats and retreats- Who are to be responsible.
Md. Rezaul Karim, Assistant Professor, Southern University Bangladesh
Remittance earnings from the expatriate workers are a critical lifeline for the Bangladesh economy. The earnings from their hard toil in foreign lands were equivalent to nearly 50% of the total export earnings during the previous fiscal year and about 10% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). According to Bangladesh Bank figures, the remittance earnings during the 2010-11 fiscal showed a record inflow of US$11.65 billion. On the other hand, the country’s total export earnings were $23.008 billion during the same period against the import payments of $30.336 billion, resulting in a huge trade deficit. Thus, the remittance earnings greatly help the country to augment its balance of payment and foreign exchange reserve situations. Unable to fight the economic battle on the home front due to the dearth of opportunities, the expatriate workers go overseas to seek their livelihoods and in the process make a huge contribution to the country’s economy. The overwhelming odds they often have to overcome to ensure their economic survival in a distant foreign land make them nothing less than modern-day economic warriors; and their income is also having a profound impact on the well-being of the rural people, where some 80% of the people still live. Thousands of Bangladeshi workers are employed overseas, mainly in the Middle Eastern and some other Asian countries, and the majority of them by far are unskilled workers with very little basic education. The gallant economic warriors are mistreated and often cheated at almost every step of the way. Starting from corrupt passport department officials, unscrupulous manpower agents, indifferent immigration officials, dishonest and, at times, harsh employers in foreign countries and unsympathetic diplomats posted in the Bangladesh missions abroad, all seem to take them for a ride while treating them disdainfully. Even when they return home after several years of hard work, they are often mistreated at the airport, fall prey to cheats or are robbed on their way home. Apparently we give them a kick on their backs when they leave the country and we welcome them back in a similar manner when they return. This entire process smacks of utter neglect, bordering on inhuman treatment of these courageous people. Even if a fraction of the attention paid and benefits doled out to the garments sector is given to the manpower export sector, it could be brought about a change for the better. It is hard to believe that so little has been done to improve the situation in this vital economic sector, which started in a small way as far back as 1976 and which makes such a big contribution. The government should immediately form a high-level task force with participation from all concerned to review the existing condition, remove the anomalies and initiate a time-bound framework to improve the overall situation in the sector. Since the existing regulations are not working and the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies is not being able to self-regulate, the government should initiate much stronger regulations and guidelines for this sector. It should include stiff punitive measures for any violations. What is more important, it must be enforced, which is grossly lacking at present. It is important that we should aim at sending more skilled workers overseas which will bring them higher earnings and better working conditions. The government, along with participation from the private sector, should significantly expand the technical and vocational training programmes in the country. It will also have a positive impact on the economic activities within the country. All related processes starting from passport issuance, immigration and other government formalities should be simplified and made easier for our valued expatriate workers. Immigration help desks exclusively for the expatriate workers should be set up at the Dhaka Airport, both in the departure and arrival lounges. Anyone traveling through the airport must have noticed how helpless these people are when it comes to filling out forms and going through the other formalities. The ministry of labor and employment, along with perhaps private sector participation, should take immediate steps to start an ‘orientation programme’ for all expatriate workers leaving the country. This programme should brief them about the immigration process both at home and abroad, how to board and behave in an aircraft, some relevant basic information about the country they are going to and its language, how to contact the Bangladesh mission in case of an emergency and other related information. It is to be noted that in most cases the Bangladesh missions abroad show a step-motherly attitude towards these valued workers, and they are left to fend for themselves; in some ways even discouraged to come to the missions to lodge their complaints of abuse and other types of harassments. Clearly, the foreign office mandarins must change their mindset and their attitude and develop a more service-oriented mentality towards the needs of these people. After all, remittance earnings are a vital component of the ‘economic diplomacy’ which they must learn to use skillfully. More importantly, it is Embassy’s duty to help any Bangladeshi citizen in distress in the country of their posting. The foreign ministry should take immediate measures to revamp the ‘labor desks’ in the embassies in countries where we have large numbers of expatriate workers; and these are not many countries, only a few like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Malaysia. The activities of the ‘labor desks’ should be expanded with increased manpower and they should be more pro-active in solving the problems of the expatriate workers.