Being the ratifying state of International convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families 1990, it is the responsibility of Bangladesh government to protect the rights of its migrant workers in all stages of their migration. The liabilities amplified while Bangladesh took initiatives to propose the global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration towards United Nations in 2016 and involved actively to accomplish it in the following years. Though the government, in different means i.e. formulating acts, laws and policies, digitalization of services, and define different strategies, it yet plagued to ensure ethical recruitment of overseas workers and accountability of recruiting agencies for their services.
Global Compact (GCM) is a non-legally binding, cooperative framework that builds on the commitments agreed upon by Member States. Principally the migrant source country showed the concern for such compact to ensure the protection of their people in host country, followed by embracing different strategies. However, the initiatives taken from host country’s end still remain trivial. The migrant workers’ rights could only be assured when s/he could enjoy equal rights like citizens of host countries in the sense of employment and wages, for which the effective implementation of GCM, especially the objective 6 is essential to make it realistic.
Among the 23 objectives of GCM, the objective number six is on ethical recruitment of migrant workers. It states, ‘The member state will facilitate fair and ethical recruitment and safeguard conditions that ensure decent work’. To protect the migrant workers from all forms of exploitation and abuse both in their country of origin and destination, the members’ states will review their existing recruitment mechanism and relevant laws and policies in accordance with international standard. Apparently, for achieving statement made in the objective 6, the member states needs to do total 12 actions, on which we will focus our views and will try measure what progress our government made so far.
According to GCM objective 6 section (1), the member state will sign and ratify the relevant international instruments related to international labor migration, labor rights, decent work and forced labor. In this perspectives, as thousands of Bangladeshi female found employment as domestic worker, the government yet to ratify the C189 Domestic Workers Convention 2011. Apart from this, to eliminate violence and harassment against its workers, it is also need to ratify the C190 Violence and Harassment Convention 2019.
Though Bangladeshi people are working in more than 162 countries, yet the government made bilateral agreements with its major labor hosting countries. It has BLAs only with Kuwait and Qatar where both countries committed to protect the rights of migrant workers. However, it has memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with other destination countries like: Hong Kong, China, Jordan, the Republic of Korea, Libya, Malaysia, the Maldives, Oman, and United Arab Emirates, which could not assure to protect the rights of migrant workers in destination countries. Therefore, it is an urgent requirement to sign more BLAs with migrant worker receiving countries and ensure accountability in migrant worker recruitment. Moreover, being a member of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and majority of these states are recruiter of Bangladeshi migrant workers, Bangladesh has the opportunity through OIC to do strategic diplomatic negotiation to follow the convention on “The Statute of the labor centre of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’, ‘OIC framework for cooperation on labor, employment and social protection’ and ‘OIC standard Bilateral Agreement on Exchange of Manpower’.
Bangladesh government passed a rules on ‘License and code of conduct for recruiting agencies’ in 2019 as the application of power mentioned in article 47 of Overseas Employment and migrants act 2013 to make the RAs more accountable for overseas recruitment and prohibit them from charging high, exploit the migrant workers both in home and destination countries. Though the government fixed country specific migration cost, lack of monitoring and regulation over the RAs and brokers gave the space to charge migrants high.
Redressing migration grievances and disputes over breach of job contract, wage theft and exploitation, Bangladesh government has online complaint as well as arbitration mechanism. However, the involvement of migrant workers’ organization, CSOs and trade unions in the grievance redress mechanism is yet to reinforce. The parliamentary caucus on migration and development alone with parliamentary standing committee for Ministry of expatriate has taken initiatives to involve CSOs, and trade unions in the process of mediation and migration dispute mechanism recently though. Regrettably, the migrants is destination countries receive fewer opportunity to access legal support as well as complaint redress mechanism from the government end through high commission.
According to section (12) of the objective 6, the member state obliged to improve national policies and programs related to ethical and fair recruitment for ensuring equal right for jobs, workplace benefits, safety and wages, for which they should consider the ‘ILO General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment’, the ‘United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’ and the IOM ‘International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS)’. Though Bangladesh government made some tremendous progress in digitalize the online registration, fingering of workers for manpower clearance, online complaint mechanism, and database for returnee migrants and Labor Attaché reporting system in comprehensive manner, it is yet to follow the IRIS five principals effectively. Recruitment fees for Bangladesh workers are still higher comparing with neighboring labor sending states, because of involvement of middlemen or local brokers in all stages of migration. The government is still besieged with RAs to supply Bangla translated copy of job contract to outbound migrants. Moreover, the mandated pre-departure training (PDT) share information regarding ethical recruitment and rights of migrant workers i.e. freedom of movement, freedom to do trade unions, access to grievance mechanism etc. with the outbound migrant workers in very little.
Though the government enacted Overseas Employment and Migration act 2013, for protection of the rights of migrant workers in home and at destination countries as well as regulate the labor migration mechanism, the act has been consider the gender issues insignificantly. Our law enforcement agencies are also not well oriented on the law and bewilder with the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, 2012. The Policy and action plan to implement the Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment policy 2016 set some short term, medium term and long term plan for sending skill manpower, however the plan for sending skill women in different sector is yet to execute. Our female workers, majority of whom migrating to GCC countries as domestic workers are experiencing exploitation and abuse, for which we need to improve our recruitment mechanism urgently and bring the RAs under transparent accountability and reduce exacerbate the vulnerabilities of migrants. The capacity and skills of our labor attaché and inspectors as well as high commission needs to develop by organizing comprehensive training programs. Moreover, it is urgent for the government to take stringent measures to prohibit the offensive acts of illegal brokers for sending workers charging higher and without having proper documents and maintaining standard job contract.
Aminul Hoque Tushar
Migration analyst and development activist