The remittances earned by overseas workers have been considered a major economic stake of the country. As an overpopulated and poverty-stricken country, Bangladesh took the opportunity to transfer its abundant manpower to different foreign countries and earn remittances. Up to April 2019, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), approximately 12.42 billion people migrated to more than 165 countries. The country reached a milestone in building its foreign currency reserves as it received record 15.54 billion USD in remittance in 2018. The female workers' migration from Bangladesh is also scaling up comparing with the number of their male counterparts. Since 1991, more than seven lakh females have migrated either as domestic workers or as garments workers.
Before 2001, the BMET was the main regulatory body of the worker migration, which was functioning under the labour ministry. Realizing the importance of labour migration as the source to earn foreign currencies and create employment in areas other than the ready-made garment (RMG) and agriculture sectors, the government in 2001 established the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment. After the emancipation, a number of measures like legislating acts, policies, rules to monitor the Overseas Recruiting Agencies (RAs) and controlling the demand and supply of labour in the global market, skill enhancement have been taken by the ministry. In fact, before 2011, no significant initiatives were taken in favour of the interest of the migrant workers and their rights. In 2011, Bangladesh entered a new era when the government ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families 1990. Since then, the government has brought changes in the migration governance and monitoring system. Robust advancement has been noted when the government has enacted Overseas Employment and Migration Act 2013, Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Policy 2016, strengthened the capacity of the Technical Training Center (TTC) and DEMO through decentralizing services, and establishment of Expatriate Welfare Bank (PKB) after 2011. At the global level, being a topmost overseas workers' Country of Origin (COO), Bangladesh emerged as leader to protect its overseas workers' right at different global platforms. In 2016, Bangladesh chaired the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) and presented the concept of compact on migration. The Global Compact on Migration (GCM) outlined the legal, structural and institutional rights to protect the migrant workers and their families globally.
Global Compact on Migration (GCM): On December 10 and 11, 2018 the Morocco GFMD reaffirmed the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and to make an important contribution to enhance cooperation on international migration in all its dimensions, the member states of United Nations adopted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The GCM is rooted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. It is a milestone in the history of the global dialogue and international cooperation on migration, though it is a non-legally binding, cooperative framework that builds on the commitments agreed upon by Member States in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. It is well noted that this GCM is the brainchild of Bangladesh. This Global Compact has a total of 17 objectives to promote safe, orderly and regular migration.
For promoting safe, orderly and regular migration, the compact initially identified the importance of preserving accurate and disaggregated data of migrants who move globally for economic and livelihood purposes, or even become victims of climate change, natural or political instability. The compact also has the objectives to minimize the factors that compel people to leave country, provide information to migrants on legal migration and having legal documents and identity. Global partnership among countries of origin and countries of destination on fair and ethical recruitment, ensures decent work, reduces vulnerability in migration, response to rescue and identity mission migrants, combats labour trafficking, and manages border in a coordinated manner. The GCM also has the objective to enhance consular capacity of the country to protect, assist and, cooperate with, the migrants through the migration cycle. The government will be also responsible as per objective no. 15 of the compact to provide access to basic services for migrants, and empowering migrants to realize full inclusion and social cohesion (as per objective no. 16). The objective no. 18 of the compact also kept the provision for the governments to invest in skills development and facilitate mutual recognition of skills, qualifications and competences. However, the government will be responsible to create favourable conditions for migrants and Diasporas to fully contribute to sustainable development. Like 10.c goal of SDG, the compact has an objective to promote faster, safer and cheaper transfer of remittances to foster financial inclusion of migrants. Migrants' reintegration is a challenge for the country like Bangladesh, where the society and community differ in attitude towards returnee migrants. Therefore, the compact has kept a provision of a mechanism for reintegrating migrant workers, and establishing a mechanism or designing a holistic approach for the portability of social security entitlements and earned benefits for the migrant workers.
Opportunities and Challenges for Bangladesh Government to implement GCM: As mentioned earlier, the present government is striving to upgrade the status of the country from lower-income to a middle-income economy through an holistic approach, where it prepares the 7thFive Years Action Plan rationalizing with Vision 2021, Vision 2041 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For effectual utilization of the manpower, the government also has taken a number of initiatives for skill enhancement through technical and vocational education. Different social safety net programmes of the government are also helping the poor and disadvantaged people to rid them of poverty.
As a COO (Country of Origin) of migrant workers, the present government has conveyed some significant changes in its migration governance. The Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment has adopted a number of institutional reforms to improve the services to the migrants. It decentralized the services of BMET at the district level through strengthening DEMO i.e. fingering, smart card disbursement, and making compulsory for the migrants to receive pre-departure orientation and trade-wise training, legislate Expatriate Welfare Policy 2016 and Overseas Employment Act 2013. The Expatriate Welfare Bank is also functioning at the district level to provide financial assistance to migrants for migration and reintegration. Though there are a number of actions taken by the government to make migration safe, ethical and regular, some challenges still remain within the systems and services. Analyzing different initiatives of the government, the following challenges and opportunities have been identified.
Maintaining migrant database: For preserving disaggregated and accurate data on migration, migrant workers and socio-economic status of migrants' families, the government needs to conduct a special census. Though the BBS census is conducted after every 10 years, it may not give the details and accurate data on migration. Therefore, it requires to conduct a special survey engaging BMET, PKB (Probashi Kalyan Bank), BAIRA (Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies), and DIP (Department of Immigration and Passport) in every three years duration and create a national database. Provision for the accessing information on skilled returnee migrants could also be kept in the national database from where the nation could identify the skilled workers. Additionally, as a preventative action against irregular migration, the government should find the scope to preserve the data of the migrants who moved to transit country or destination country on tourist visa, treatment visa, work visa and student visa with the intensity to migrate to other country as irregular means or seeking permanent residence status as illegal means.
Integrating regional association and platform in migration governance: The top-five origin countries of migrant workers in South Asia are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. They are the members of the regional association called SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation). With the mandate to develop South Asia, currently SAARC has a regional centre on agriculture, energy, cultural, HIV/AIDS, and disaster management, but excluded the labour migration sector. Therefore, for ensuring the equal rights of migrant workers of South Asian countries, SAARC should step forward to establish a regional center on migration. Moreover, to strengthen the transnational response to control irregular migration or human trafficking, the government could facilitate the process to reinforce the capacity of regional networks or association like: SAARC, BIMSTEC or OIC to follow a standard mechanism like: job contract (ILO standard), BLAs between states (OIC standard), training quality and recognition etc.
Initiate joint monitoring system with the government of receiving country: For ensuring the rights of the migrant workers are well protected in the destination country, both the host and origin country could develop a joint monitoring mechanism to regularly observe the employers-workers relationship, working environment, health issues, wages and benefits etc. For example, recently the Saudi government (Ministry of labour and social development) launched the TAMAM Enterprise Inspection system. TAMAM aims to develop inspection procedures, improve quality, increase employers 'and employers' compliance with regulations and regulations, raise public awareness and enhance cooperation with employers to create a work environment free of violations, reduce the time taken to complete the inspection process. Taking the opportunity of the host country's inspection system, Bangladesh government could take an initiative to work jointly with the TAMAM system to improve the living, working and rights condition of Bangladeshi workers/ domestic workers.
Skill enhancement and reduce risks of climate induced migration: For minimising the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin, the government has to take effective steps to increase opportunities for the unemployed youths to engage in different jobs and reduce vulnerabilities of irregular migration. The people of the climate change impact areas obliged to seek alternative livelihood and for which they move to other cities for livelihood, and somehow became vulnerable to human trafficking. Therefore, the government needs to take initiatives to reduce vulnerability of people to natural disaster and climate change. It requires to build the community capacity on climate resistant agricultural, fisheries, livestock practices, and reduce the rate of climate change-induced migration. Different skill enhancement programs have been implemented by the government for past few years, but which are insufficient to cover unemployed youths and people who are victims of climate change. Therefore, it requires to increase the budget and target beneficiaries' skill enhancement programmes like: SEIP, STEP, B-SEP, and encourage the international organization to invest in skill development programs like: Sudokkho, B- skillFULL etc. The TTC and other TVET institutes also need to offer more trade courses that have global demand and follow global standard curriculum to optimise the skill match in the global labour market.
Supply of accurate and authentic information timely at every stage of migration: It is essential to confirm that the Bangladeshi migrant workers should have accurate information at every stage of migration, which are key challenges for the government to overcome. The services of DEMO (District Employment and Manpower Office) are limited to disbursing smart card, fingering and registration, which could not ensure the regular and safe migration from the grassroots level. Insufficient staffs and facilities at the local institute level someway confront disbursing formation of safe migration to large scale migrants. Therefore, for making DEMO more functional and migration service oriented, it needs to establish MRC (Migration Resource Center) at the DEMO level, from where the potential and returnee migrants will get safe migration information, check visa and job contract, and receive counseling support, legal counseling, reintegration and training information. Moreover, the government has the scope to strengthen the capacity of the Union Digital Information Center to provide services to migrants regarding BMET registration, online complaints submission, and training information. For providing similar services using the digitalized portal to women from Upazila level, the government has the scope to access the platform of Tottho Apa project (a project under Ministry of Women and Child Affairs). A tactical role could also be played by the Bangladesh High Commission and labour wings at each destination country by organizing post-arrival orientation to newly arrived migrants on: cultural adaptation, gaining work permit, visa renewal procedure, wages, and remittance transfer and labour laws of the COD etc.
Strengthen the protection entitlements of domestic entities to reduce vulnerable migration: The rights of the migrant workers become vulnerable from the very commencement of the process, i.e. from the stage of preparing passport. The underage girls became more vulnerable when they prepare passports as per the guidance of the agents. Therefore, it is strongly required to embrace the authority of the Department of Immigration and Passport (DIP), Home Ministry to protect the rights of migrant workers through practising strong monitoring during conducting police verification for issuing passports, and immigration clearance at airports. At the institute level, for reducing vulnerability to labour trafficking, and minimizing risks to fall in an exploitative situation, the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment has formed a Vigilance Task Force (VTF). Since its formation, no significant actions have been taken by the VTF to compel the irregular migration, except having some mobile court actions at the recruiting agent and travel agent level in Dhaka. The VTF should take effective and visual steps to control the unscrupulous recruiting agents and their representatives (called Middlemen or Dalal).
Forming, strengthening and functioning of Migration Committee: For addressing and reducing vulnerability during migration, the government needs to strengthen its local institutional services. It could engage and develop the capacity of the local government (LGs) to work at grassroots level. Hence, it could form migration committee at Upazila (sub-district) and Union level or merge with the anti-trafficking committee to observe and improve the anti-trafficking & safe migration situation, manage migration related local grievances, facilitate the social reintegration of returnee migrants etc.
Needed are more state-to-state BLAs, not MoUs: Though Bangladeshi workers migrated to at least 165 countries for jobs, Bangladesh has bilateral agreements regarding manpower recruitment only with Kuwait and Qatar. With the rest of Bangladeshi labour receiving countries, Bangladesh government has MoUs, whereas the receiving countries are not legally obliged to follow the condition of the MoUs, and committed to protect rights of the workers. Therefore, the government needs to seek more skill matching labor market and sign BLAs, following standard (ILO standard) job contracts, wages and benefits, working environment etc.
The scope to fit sub-agents under law and regulation: The recruiting agencies (RAs) are playing a pivotal role for the overseas employment and workers migration. The Overseas Employment and Migration Act (OEMA) 2013 has a separate chapter for regulating the recruiting agencies. The section number 16 under 3rd chapter of the act mentioned to categorize, regulate and monitor the activities of the recruiting agencies. But the clause has not pointed out the roles of the sub-agents (Middlemen) of the recruiters who are the major suppliers of migrants.
Ensure social security of the vulnerable migrants for successful reintegration: The government has already started to enact 'Social Security Act 2019', where it has the scope to incorporate the vulnerable migrants and their families, and also increase the social safety net budget for the poor migrant workers. Though the government kept a budget for the poor and destitute women, a budget for interest free microcredit for the poor women, a budget for skill enhancement of poor, the government has the space to make it proportionate for the poor and destitute migrants and their family members.
At the domestic level, the government enacted different laws, acts and policies to make migration safe, orderly and regular. Nonetheless the challenges still remain in its migration management. Increasing skilled manpower at service providing institutions, strengthening capacity for undertaking strong diplomatic negotiation with Country of Destination (COD), effective implementation of acts and laws, strengthening the capacity of LEA (Law enforcement agents), maintaining database of skilled migrants, and capacity to produce technically skill workers etc. could help overcome the challenges to reduce the migrant workers' vulnerability to exploitation, pre-mature return and the risk of becoming undocumented and illegal migrants.
The writer is a migrants' rights activist.