Monday, 24 January, 2022

Rights of Female Migrant Workers

Barrister Zahid Rahman

Rights of Female Migrant Workers
Barrister Zahid Rahman

In recent times, especially since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, remittances sent by Bangladeshi migrant workers to the country have been making a significant contribution to the country’s economic recovery. At present in our country, men as well as women are going abroad to find employment to contribute to the economy of Bangladesh. According to BMET, over 0.84 million Bangladeshi women have migrated for work abroad since 1991. About ninety-eight per cent of them migrated to the Middle Eastern countries as domestic workers. Saudi Arabia alone recruited over 0.3 million female housekeepers from Bangladesh.

In the past four years, more than 5,000 Bangladeshi women have returned from Saudi Arabia amid allegations of inhumane treatment and abuse against their employers. According to BRAC’s migration program, in 2018 alone, at least 1,500 women returned home from Saudi Arabia. It seems that they are completely affected by such tragic events. It is not one or two or even 10, but in the Middle East, an average of about 100 female migrant workers die each year. To be precise, 473 women from the Middle East returned to the country as dead in about 5 years, of which 175 died in Saudi Arabia. Sadly, in the last four years, 81 female migrant worker has committed suicide in different countries. In 2019, the bodies of at least 63 female workers were repatriated. Twenty-two of them died in Saudi Arabia alone. Even after that, Bangladeshi women are going to different countries including the Middle East in the hope of changing their destiny.

A recent study on women migrant workers across 22 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America finds them experiencing serious gender-based violence and harassment starting from insults to intimidation, physical abuse and sexual assault. The study conducted by the Global Alliance against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) was aimed at documenting the behavior of violence, harassment and exploitation that women migrant workers face and the way they handle such abuses. GAATW have observed that, after being victims of gender-based violence, a group of Bangladeshi housemaids have decided to migrate abroad. Another group of Bangladeshi women workers were forced to maneuver abroad for their family crisis.

There is no dedicated office for arbitration cases for migrant workers of Bangladesh. As a result, their claims remain unfulfilled. In many cases, the compensation settled by the arbitration is low. According to BMET data, they received about Tk 2.9 million in compensation through arbitration for 315 women returnees in 2018 which meant that each woman got only Tk nine thousand and two hundred each. Where they had to spend Tk ten thousand to Tk Hundred thousand for migration. The report from the Ministry of Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment stated, they spoke to about 110 female domestic workers returning from Saudi Arabia. Thirty-five per cent of them returned home after physical and sexual abuse, and forty-four per cent were not paid regularly. Sadly, there is no end to the suffering of those who are able to survive the ordeal, others are traumatised. In many cases, their families do not want to accept them. Though foreign exchange reserves are booming with the remittances they send.

Meanwhile Saudi authorities have ascertained Bangladesh of taking all necessary moves to confirm the safety of Bangladeshi female workers in their country. The recruiting agency will provide residential and other facilities for the workers awaiting repatriation. Relevant agencies will notify the Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh and the Ministry of Labour and Social Development of Saudi Arabia when a female employee’s term of office expires or when the employee wishes to extend their working period there. If a female worker has a problem, the Saudi Department of Security and Protection will first inform the relevant authorities. The Saudi authorities will first verify the employers, and only then will they allow female workers to travel there as part of an initiative to ensure their safety. In addition, Bangladeshi workers are at greater risk in times of crisis, since they are mostly inefficient or semi-skilled, and widely employed in less productive sectors.

Women workers should be trained before being sent abroad. The government should be responsible and concerned about the security of women workers. Instead of housemaids, women workers should be sent as caregivers, garments or other occupations. If any torture or harassment of female workers happened, arrangements for their assistance should place immediately. After returning to the country, female workers have to undertake various programs including rehabilitation to ensure their normal life. Once the technical training of the workers are ensured, this will increase employment scope and safeguard the rights of migrant workers in line with the global market.

This will go a long way in upholding the interests of migrant workers and benefit the economy of Bangladesh in a healthier way.

A study found, about 57 per cent of women required immigration costs to go abroad with employment, although it was previously announced that there was no need to pay government-sponsored female workers for foreign jobs. Moreover, the majority of outbound female workers, nearly sixty-four per cent, failed to receive job contracts before their departure. Without participating in the mandatory pre-departure training course provided by BMET, 25 per cent of Bangladeshi women workers received fake training certificates from sub-agents.

Authorities should raise awareness about safe migration and problems around migration that women face. At the same time, we should also establish a unified platform that has information on available jobs abroad and reliable recruitment agencies. Recruiting agencies, embassies and labour ministry branches in our destination countries need to monitor whether the female migrant workers are facing any problems. Collecting separate data on the remittance earned by females is also essential to understand the contribution of female migrant workers to our GDP and determine how to increase it. Due to the lack of support centers, women workers are unable to get legal aid when they want. That’s why support centers for women migrant workers must be established at the grassroot level to widen the initiatives.


The writer is a Bar-at-law