7th Asia-Pacific Seminar – Article on Migrant Workers Bangladesh

Mr Chairman Comrade
I am grateful to UITBB for inviting me in this important Seminar in Bali-Indonesia. On behalf my organization I am congratulates all of you for given me an opportunity to share the experience of Bangladesh in our sector with other colleagues around the world.
Dear colleagues and friends
The ILO figures show that over 200 million children are in paid work, over 12 million people are in forced labour, and 2 million workers die every year due to work-related accidents and diseases. Last year, 145 people worldwide were murdered for their trade union activities.
In Bangladesh as per Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics about 1.5 million workers working in construction sector but less than 1% workers are organized (Labour force survey 20052006.)
Total population about 150 Million. Unemployed rate is very high. Employed by for formal sector 10.2 million and informal sector 37.2% (Male27% female 9.7%).
In building & construction sector wages of skilled labour about 1.50 US dollar and female worker less then 1 US dollar per day and nature of job no-work-no pay. Very few skilled women workers are working in the sector.
Women workers very much exploited by the employee, contractor sub contractor & no social security for male & female workers. Many times they face problems in work side. Wages of female workers is less than male workers though the female workers do same work as their male workers do. Our union is trying to improve the working condition both for male and female workers and equal wages for equal work for female workers. This situation is similar in South East Asia almost.
Our union Dhaka Zilla Building Construction Workers Union gave highest priority on organizing of women workers in our union and fight against all kind of exploitation at workplaces by collective actions.
Bangladesh is a major exporter of labour with more than 900,000 Bangladeshis leaving the country each year to work abroad. While official records indicate that approximately 900,000 Bangladeshis left the country to work abroad in 2007, actual numbers of migrants may be much higher given that a substantial number migrate through unofficial channels. Unofficial migrants are those who go to destination countries in search of work without authorization from the countries that they are migrating to.
Presently most mass labour migrants from Bangladesh are destined for low skill level jobs in countries with labour laws that leave them with little protection. In particular, sectors employing migrant labourers often have little or no regulation of safety, health and working conditions. Meanwhile, many low-skilled migrant labourers are also paid less than the minimum wage prescribed by law in these destination countries. Recent reports indicate that there has been a decline in wages and deterioration in work conditions due to surplus labour in the overseas migrant labour market.
With this background, the Health Systems and Infectious Diseases Division of ICDDR,B, in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), used a tool developed by WHO to investigate workplace injury among migrants from Mirsarai, a rural, migrationprone area of Bangladesh. The Arab Middle East is the destination for most Bangladeshi labourers migrating from Mirsarai and the study investigated workplace injuries that led to temporary work limitations or permanent work disability.
The study yielded 3 major findings. First, a high proportion of migrant labourers reported having experienced workplace injury: 60 percent of the migrants experienced workplace injury while abroad. Among these, 54 percent sought treatment for their injury. Second, employers rarely covered the cost of treatment: only 10 percent of the migrants received payment from their employer to cover the cost of treatment. Thirty five percent of the migrants required a hospital stay due to injury on the job, indicating that the costs of treatment were quite high for some. Third, 34 percent of the migrants reported having a physical disability as a result of injury on the job while abroad, which diminished their usual level of activity.
Bangladesh economy is largely dependent on remittances that are sent by migrant labourers.During 2007, migrant labourers sent 7.93 billion dollars back to Bangladesh. Paradoxically, HSID’s study conducted in Mirsarai showed the average monthly income of the labourers was around US$ 300.
It is unfortunate that despite the significant contributions of Bangladeshi migrant labourers to the economy of Bangladesh, migrant labourers receive low pay and experience high rates
of workplace injury. This new study by ICDDR,B demonstrates the need for policymakers to take significant steps to ensure the safety of migrant workers and help prevent workplace injuries among the Bangladeshi migrant labour force in destination countries.
The recruitment process of migrant workers in Bangladesh is complex. The whole process is characterized by a host of intermediaries, some official and legitimate, while others are clandestine and dubious. In this context, through migration friendly policy interventions by the Bangladesh government is desirable, in reality there is an absence of such policy perspective. The migrant workers send their remittances mainly through “hundi” system which is a method that by-passes the banking system. The remittances do have positive impact on Bangladesh economy. The remittances make substantial contribution to family welfare, social development and macroeconomic growth.
There are mixed views about the costs and benefits of migration of workers from Bangladesh. However, foreign laborers have. Remitted US$ 11.5 billion during 1977-99. The remittances are inexpensive source of foreign exchange available for economic development of Bangladesh. Migration of workers also helped in reducing the unemployment rate, which is one of the major problems of Bangladesh. Migrant households experienced enormous expansion of their income base during the post migration period. The benefit to cost ratio came out to be highly favorable to the individual as well as to the society.
Migrant workers, particularly in Asian countries, have to return to Bangladesh after stipulated contract period. There is absence of policy framework as well as program the country for facilitating reintegration of NRBs. Re-integration and rehabilitation of the returnees is the least explored area in labor migration scenario for Bangladeshis. Parameters of a policy framework for reintegration have been identified for action. Globalization along with local factors have made the management of the labor migration a complex and difficult undertaking. The interest of migrant workers has been marginalized due to lack of rules, migration norms and expertise in migration management, both locally and globally. In Bangladesh, there is absence of institutional and policy framework to address the issues of institutional arrangements for skill development, protection of rights of the NRBs as well as evaluation of the measures to minimize the migration of undocumented workers.
Despite institutional limitations Bangladesh, like other labor originating countries, has the goals of maximizing labor migration and ensuring protection and welfare of migrant workers abroad.
Hundreds of migrant workers from Bangladesh have been deported by force from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the last few weeks, following protests against wages lower than what their employers had initially agreed to pay.
Many of these workers were brutally tortured by police before deportation. They were allegedly rounded up on a random basis from their workplaces and compelled to leave the oil-rich countries without even collecting their belongings and savings or due salaries.
The unemployed poor are easily trapped by the brokers of private manpower exporting agents across the country. The brokers tempt people with fairy tales about the work and the benefits they will get. They imply that by paying a fee and registering with their company, a worker can get rich in a few months.
If a family has a piece of land, it is promptly sold, often to a moneyed person waiting for the opportunity to get the land cheaply. An unmarried man thinks about getting married to a woman who can pay a dowry equivalent to what he needs to get employment abroad.
Some people insist that their in-laws should pay the required fee, and use physical and psychological assaults on their wives to force them to pay. Some married people attempt to marry again to “earn” a dowry from the second wife’s relatives. Some sell their wives’ ornaments, whether or not the women agree. Some go to the microcredit companies to borrow the whole amount or a certain portion of it at a huge spiraling interest rate.
The government policymakers must rethink their perverted policy of slumbering and remaining silent when the best contributors to the nation’s economy are in need. The authorities must have a pro-people policy to correct the system and protect the rights of their compatriot workers around the world.
Bangladesh (Tier2)
Bangladesh is a source and transit country for men and women trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude. It is also a source country for children – both girls and boys – trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, bonded labor, and other forms of involuntary servitude. Women and children from Bangladesh are trafficked to India and Pakistan for sexual exploitation. Bangladeshi women also migrate legally to the Gulf for work as domestic servants, but often find themselves in situations of involuntary servitude when faced with restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, and physical or sexual abuse. In addition, Bangladeshi men and women migrate to Malaysia, the Gulf, and Jordan to work in the construction or garment industry, but sometimes face conditions of involuntary servitude, including fraudulent recruitment offers; debt bondage may be facilitated by large pre-departure fees imposed by Bangladeshi recruitment agents. Internally, Bangladeshis are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and bonded labor. Some Burmese women who are trafficked to India transit through Bangladesh.
Bangladesh continued to raise awareness of trafficking and criminally prosecute and punish sex traffickers over the reporting period. The government also took steps to shut down labor recruitment agencies believed to be using deceptive recruiting practices and opened cases for forced child labor. Bangladesh did not, however, report any criminal convictions or prison sentences for acts of involuntary servitude. Bangladesh should prosecute labor trafficking offenses and seek the imposition of criminal penalties for deceptive recruitment practices that facilitate trafficking, and should increase efforts to combat internal trafficking for forced labor and sexual exploitation. Bangladesh should also provide more protection services for adult male trafficking victims and victims of labor forms of trafficking.
Bangladesh did not make discernible progress in protecting victims of trafficking this reporting period, but continued efforts from previous years. Police anti-trafficking units encourage victims to assist in the investigation of cases against their traffickers. The government supported crisis centers in hospitals that are open to trafficking victims, but relied on NGOs to provide medical and psychological care to victims. The government also provided a building to a local NGO for use as a shelter for at-risk children. Bangladesh developed a witness protection protocol permitting victims to submit testimony in writing or to testify in front of a judge only. Nonetheless, the government reported no efforts to protect adult male victims or victims of forced labor.
Bangladesh continued to make progress in its prevention efforts. A campaign of 650 television and radio public service announcements warned the public of the dangers of trafficking. The government continued to provide anti-trafficking information to micro-credit borrowers, reaching over 380,000 at-risk women. Bangladesh has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
Mandatory testing, notification and deportation
Most receiving countries in Southeast and Northeast Asia and in the Middle East require people applying for overseas jobs to undergo mandatory testing for HIV and other infectious diseases. In addition to the discriminatory nature of the mandatory testing, it is often undertaken in an insensitive and irresponsible manner.
Though the Bangladesh government condemned in 1997 the mandatory HIV testing requirement, emigrating workers are still required to undergo tests in Bangladesh prior to departure. The 2000 survey done by CARAM of Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia reveals that:
– Pre-departure medical tests were completed by 83% of the workers
– 48 workers (65.8%) were aware that they were undertaking HIV testing – Of the 48, only 3 who knew that they had been tested for HIV received pre- and posttest counseling.
Similarly, in a study conducted in the Philippines, many migrant workers were unaware that they were tested for HIV.
Working conditions
Labor rights violations such as long working hours with little or no rest, exposure to unsafe working conditions, poor sanitation and nutrition, and wage withholding, underpayment or illegal deduction have the potential of compromising the health of migrant workers and predispose them to infections.
Single entry policy and denial of right to marry
Most receiving countries require migrant workers to enter the country without spouses and partners. Further, marriage in the receiving country often becomes reason for deportation. Such policies deny the human, social and sexual identities and needs of migrant workers, and increase their health and HIV vulnerabilities when they opt for unsafe means of pursuing relationships.
Detention centers and health
Reports indicate that in most detention centers, migrant detainees face poor nutrition and sanitation, minimal or no medical attention. Rape and sexual abuse of women migrant detainees are also common. Such violations may cause direct infection with HIV and severely compromise the health of detainees and increase vulnerability to infection.
HIV-positive migrant workers
Returning migrant workers who are HIV positive face discrimination at home. The case of two returning migrant workers in Bangladesh illustrates this point. They were isolated in a jail-like situation in a hospital and the media hounded them by publishing their photographs in newspapers using information supplied by the hospital.
Until returning migrant workers are protected and are able to enjoy their rights to privacy, information and access to appropriate health care, it is not possible to protect the societies they belong to from the AIDS pandemic.
Asian female migrant workers require protection, says ILO
ASIAN women are now the fastest growing category of international migrant workers and need special protection since, as migrants and non-national workers, they are particularly vulnerable to various forms of discrimination, exploitation and abuse, according to a study by the International Labour Organization.
Legal and illegal
According to the ILO report, about 1.5 million Asian women, both legal and illegal, are working abroad, with a large proportion of them in other Asian countries – the Gulf countries and the fast growing Asian economies of the East.
The main exporting countries of migrant women are Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
The main receiving countries are the Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei are also receiving countries.
Increasing demand
While their numbers are not large, women from other Asian countries too are migrants. Though the ban on migrant women workers was lifted in Bangladesh only in 1991, Bangladeshi women are also working as domestic labour not only in India and Pakistan, but also in Hong Kong and the Middle East.
But sending countries have now come under increasing pressure to protect their workers abroad.
But with more sending countries entering the labour export market, there is competition among them while receiving countries have wider choices and cheaper sources of labour.
Fearing loss of their market share, labour-exporting countries in Asia have contribution to the ‘further institutionalization of low wages for “female” jobs by establishing that the minimum standard wage that the overseas employer must pay could be lower for women than for men.’
IOM MRF Dhaka has commissioned some studies during 2008 including one on the existing legal framework related to labour migration from Bangladesh, which observes that the overall existing legal framework may not be conducive to meet the need of the time and tackle the complexities of the labour migration sector. The major legal instrument, the Emigration Ordinance, 1982, does not have significant provision protecting the rights of the migrant workers, the
study findings observe. It further comments that the penalties for the breach of the provisions of the Ordinance are also insignificant considering the seriousness of the crime (compared to similar crime penalised in other laws). Therefore, there is a growing acknowledgment for the amendment to the legal framework including that of the Ordinance.
Bangladesh has signed the ICRMW on 7 October 1998. However, it is yet to ratify the instrument.
Again the Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees certain rights for the citizens. Among them, mentionable ones are the equal protection of law (Art. 31), right to life and liberty (Art. 32), safeguards as to arrest and detention (Art. 33), prohibition of forced labour (Art. 34), protection in respect of trial and punishment (Art. 35), freedom of religion (Art. 41) and right to enforcement of these rights (Art. 44).
As a citizen of Bangladesh, a migrant worker is entitled to enjoy the same rights beyond the State boundary. State has a role here in ensuring and facilitating the enjoyment of those rights. A ruling from the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh has confirmed this obligation of the State.
Therefore, in the context of Bangladesh, there will be no extra obligation for the State after ratification of the ICRMW. However, it will facilitate to streamline the existing legal framework and institutions. There is a misconception that ratification of the ICRMW might make the labour receiving countries ‘unhappy’. This is not the case and also not a justifiable point. Major labour sending countries, like Philippines, have ratified the ICRMW. Concerned experts argue for the immediate ratification of the ICRMW by Bangladesh and adoption of appropriate regulatory regime that will have an extraterritorial reach as envisioned in the Convention. However, this regulatory regime has to be rights-based and to enhance the capacity of the State to manage the migration sector.
In my conclusion, I appeal to the all union leaders to assist the affiliate in South Asia as well as Asia one Pacific Region to strengthen the capacity of union to organize the more workers male & female.
Let us work together to make decent a reality in our sectors by collective actions.

Humayun Parvez Khan Vice President Dhaka Zilla Building Construction Workers Union