Saving overseas workers from gross exploitation

Bangladeshi worker–who take up employment abroad– help to underwrite the economic viability of Bangladesh by sending home the earnings from their very hard toil. But in so many cases, the workers can land even menial jobs in the host countries only after having paid to local manpower agents fees for processing their cases which are sometimes even seven or eight times higher than what should be such fees as per the official directive or calculations.
The Bangladeshi workers living and working abroad who number some 10 million and sent some $ 15.32 billion in remittances in financial year 2015-16 equivalent to nearly 9 per cent of the country’s GDP, are one of the few pillars of strength holding up the national economy . But the ones who are contributing so much to the overall economic well-being of the country, the workers, they are a distressed lot in many cases.
This is not to say that workers or their families are worse off generally after their taking up foreign employment. But usually a very large number of them are found to be struggling hard to retain a part of their earnings or recover in time the amounts they had to spend in the first place for landing the foreign jobs.
A seminar held in Dhaka — sometime ago– and devoted to the costs of migration by workers from Bangladesh focused particularly on these aspects of exploitation of the workers. A visiting teacher of an US university stated in the seminar that on average a Bangladeshi worker spends US$ 2,300 or Taka 161,300 before going abroad with a job which is nearly double the maximum official cost of $1,215. Thus, a worker on getting a menial job after spending so much money, has to typically wait at least a year or longer before he or she can think of recouping the amount spent on going abroad not to think of any added monetary gains.
The terms or conditions of many of the unskilled or little educated workers from Bangladesh are often unfair. Manpower agents who send them abroad hardly discharge any service to the workers in these respects. The Bangladeshi missions abroad are also doing little or nothing in this area. The workers are more or less left to the wolves and their sufferings in many cases can be very bad. Although the country gets the benefit of their remittances, such workers or their families in many cases do not experience much improvements in their standards of living or wealth acquisition after sacrificing so much.
There are so many Bangladeshi workers who had gone abroad borrowing money from even loan sharks to satisfy the hunger for unearned demands of so called manpower agents. Officially, there are rules that a manpower exporter can take only a fixed sum of money as maximum fee for sending a worker abroad. But the rules are hardly enforced. A job seeking worker in practice has to pay sometimes several times or more above the officially fixed amount to the manpower agent for the processing of his case although he gets a receipt showing that he paid only the officially stipulated amount.
Therefore, the rule of the maximum payment to agents must be enforced unfailingly in all cases. The relevant agencies of the government should think up ways and means to this end and apply the same at the fastest. The manpower agents have their association and they summarily rejected a government announcement that suggested maximum fees to be taken from the workers at different categories by them.
The directive from the relevant ministry is there but it lacks the force of compulsory compliance and provisions for penal measures for non compliance. Thus, the manpower agents have been paying no attention to the directive and they keep on very unconscionably exploiting the workers and ignoring that a governmental directive is there on the issue.
Thus, it is high time for the ministry to call a meeting with the manpower exporters to tell them bluntly that government from a particular date in the near future would go for enforcement of its directive and if need be, will get appropriate legislation passed at the fastest to facilitate its enforcement actions in this respect.
Simultaneously, all scheduled banks in the country need to be persuaded and advised by the central bank to extend loans to foreign job seekers at reasonable rates of interest. The loans can be contracted for servicing by their takers on getting wages abroad. Other financial organizations, apart from banks, may also be similarly motivated to lend to overseas job seekers at interest rates that would be found comfortably serviceable by the borrowers.
The manpower agents should also be obliged to ensure fair terms and conditions for the workers before their departure. Bangladeshi foreign missions need to be directed to discharge similar servicers in the interests of the migrant workers. In sum, all kinds of policies are badly needed for implementation that would help to keep reasonably limited the migration costs for the workers and for them to get reasonable returns in the form of earnings from their jobs.