According to UN DESA 2019, the number of international migrants estimated 272 million, where two-thirds are being migrant workers. Labor Migration from Bangladesh remains as viable strategy to find better employment and livelihood opportunities, where almost 10.2 million people resides in 173 countries worldwide.
Though Bangladesh government has taken a number of initiatives and strategies to improve its migration governance, however, majority of the migrant workers rely mostly local brokers for migration documents processing. Hence, a significant portion of these outbound migrant workers remain obsolete about the government offers including death compensation, compensation for injured workers, scholarships for children and other welfare benefits.
Circumventing the fair recruitment process or becoming victim of labor trafficking, exploited by employers or due to workplace injury, thousands of migrant workers return Bangladesh penniless every year. Therefore, the social and economic pressure like debt bondage, unemployment and forfeit of asset sometimes split these returnees in vulnerable condition. However, the migrants themselves required to pay a mandatory welfare fees (valued Tk. 3,500 per person) to government, from which the government generate resources to create a welfare fund called Wage Earners Welfare fund, where in last year (2019) it was 245 crore taka approximately.
However, budget allocation in social security and safety net for these workers in our annual national budget are hardly reflect, as majority of welfare activities are implemented with Wage Earners Welfare fund which actually grew up from welfare fees paid by migrant workers. Recently government allocated 641 crore taka for Expatriate ministry which is only 0.113% of the national budget, which trivially considered the social security and reintegration measures for returned migrant workers due to Coronavirus pandemic
What measures government taken so far:
In last one decade, Bangladesh government gradually expanded social safety net schemes to cover maximum number of vulnerable people, which somehow inadvertently excluded the migrant workers. In some circumstances, the deceived and returnee migrants, particularly who are victim of visa trading, fraudulence of recruiting agencies, pre-mature return or even labor trafficking, have the chance to fall under the vulnerable community which required to categorize distinctly. However, special social security services needs for these migrant families from mainstream social safety net programs.
Though the Expatriate Welfare ministry made mandatory life insurance for migrant workers (since December 2019), the ministry as well as the Wage earners’ welfare board and Probashi Kallayan Bank (PKB) yet not offer any special social insurance packages such as vulnerable community allowances and relief card. Furthermore, under the National Social Security Strategy (NSSS), migrant workers and migrant community has not been specifically addressed under socially excluded people.
Some employment generation and training programs like: SEP, SEIP with the goal reducing the vulnerability of socially excluded peopleare implementing by BMET under Expatriate Ministry. Despite that, the National Action Plan of NSSS (2016-2021) mentioned to kept social allowance program as continuous activity for migrant workers and their family members. Additionally, it kept skill development program for youth and women as another key program under human development cluster. Apart from these initiatives which cost borne from national budget, the MoEWOE from Wage Earners Welfare fund are providing a number of welfare activities like: education scholarship, death compensation or grant, and repatriation of migrants from abroad etc.
The Action plan of MoEWOE stated, it will strengthen social allowance (financial supports/ assistances/ benefits) for migrant workers and their family members by increasing the number of program and beneficiaries, but yet to specify any programs. The government already allocate stimulus packages from its exchequer as 2% incentives for legal remittance transfer, however, which are inadequate for social protection of these vulnerable community. Moreover, the COVID 19 pandemic also compelled the government to allocate special soft loan fund for returnee migrants worth taka 700 crore, which disbursement policy is yet to finalize and implement.
What other scopes could add values:
Though it yet not planned or proposed by government any social insurance and allowance scheme from government exchequer, however, based on identified bottlenecks of existing service delivery and availability of resources, the following supplementary programs could be endorse under core category of social security.
Retirement Benefits/ supplements for Returnee Migrant Worker: The government required to take initiative to keep pension schemes as retirement benefits from government exchequer for returnee migrants who completed service tenure successfully and have significant contribution in remittance sending.
Issuance of Universal Health Card: The essentials in issuance of Universal health card for individual migrant worker came into forefront amid the Coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, in emergencies i.e. disaster, accidents, pandemic, sickness, migrants irrespective of gender, race, religion, and job category needs to provide Universal health insurance and Health card, through accessing which health care services and rapid treatment will be ensured for them. The funds for this Universal health insurance or card may generate from government exchequer, Wage Earners Welfare Fund and from migrant workers.
Microcredit support: For Enterprise development and promoting IGAamong female migrant workers as well as the destitute returnee migrant workers, the government from its exchequer could allocate funds for microcredit with low or zero interest. It could be implement or disbursed through PKSF (endorsing special policy and guidelines from MRA) partners, Social welfare Department, Youth Department, Women Department, Probashi Kallayan Bank (PKB) or from WEWB.
Emergency Grants: The Expatriate Ministry as the frontline ministry needs to create an Emergency Funds for migrant workers to provide emergency allowances or grants during any emergencies like: natural disaster, pandemic/ outbreak, economic recession (which halt the income generating activities of migrants) to recoup after the disaster. The funds could be generate from government social safety net allocation, contribution from BAIRA (overseas recruiting agencies association) and from CSR fund of PKB.
Special Allowance for Vulnerable Migrant Community: Like vulnerable other communities incorporated in National Social Security Strategy i.e. Dalit, Harijon, Transgender, disable etc. it requires to have space for vulnerable migrant community (VMC)-especially those who are survivor of labor trafficking, pre-mature returnee, debt bonded migrants families. Here, government could keep special allowances for these community from government exchequer to pull-up them from poverty trap and involve them in different economic activities.
Annual Incentive benefits/ provident fund: To encourage migrant workers invest in contributory provident fund or in different government owned enterprises from which they will get annual incentive benefits and shareholders profits. The WEWB could leap forward to manage such provident fund and public-private owned enterprises like: establishment of special hospital for migrants, manufacturing industry, and infrastructural development projects etc. and disburse profits among shareholders (migrants). Besides, it is essential to allocate separate funds for legal aids for deprived migrant workers who required legal support at home and abroad as support to release from detention or jail, recovery of unpaid wages, justice for sexual / physically abused or fraudulence etc.
The NSSS ministerial action plan denoted an activity for Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment (MoEWOE) as “Improve targeting of beneficiaries” by March 2018 through introducing a manual for selection procedures and publish the beneficiary’s’ list in online regularly, which is yet to publish and available in online. The success to ensure social security for migrants that they are entitled to, however, decidedly depends on: migrants’ vulnerability mapping, database creation, emergency preparedness and digitalization of G2P payment system to make the initiative accountable, transparent and migrant caring, which are still challenging for government to accomplish and ensure the social security of migrant community. Therefore, it is essential for ministry as well as other private and public institutions accountable for safe labor migration to adopt comprehensive action plan to review existing policies and strategies and involve civil society while finalizing the programs and employing the activities for the welfare of the migrant community.
Aminul Hoque Tushar is Migration Analyst, Email: email@example.com