SAUDI Arabia in 2015 reopened its job market to household service workers for Bangladeshi women. In the subsequent years, news poured in on how rights of female migrant household workers continued to be violated. It has been widely reported in national and international media that they were subjected to severe torture, sexual abuse and forced to work for prolonged hours without proper food and due wages. In this backdrop, a Saudi Arabia recruiting agency delegation had a meeting with senior officials of the expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry, as New Age reported on Wednesday, and discussed ways to make smooth the process of recruiting more household service workers from Bangladesh. The fresh move is welcome as it holds promise for making worker recruitment easier. However, without resolving issues of gross violation of migrant workers rights in Saudi Arabia, further recruitment seems to be risky for workers. According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, 66,773 women migrants workers were recruited by employers of Saudi Arabia in the first 10 months of this year, which accounts for about 67 per cent of total 1,00,000 women who went abroad in the period. Saudi Arabia also recruited 68,000 workers as household service workers in 2016. Therefore, considering the importance of Saudi Arabia as a major destination for women workers, Bangladesh should take effective and bold diplomatic initiatives to resolve the issues of safety and security for women workers there.
According to the Bangladesh Migrant Female Workers’ Association, 2500 Bangladeshis, mainly victims of sexual abuse, physical and mental torture and wage denial, took shelter in safe homes, opened by Bangladesh mission in Saudi Arabia, in 2016. There are allegations that Bangladeshi household service workers are often forced to work 18 hours a day in Saudi Arabia and they are not provided meals three times a day. There are also allegations that they are not allowed to contact their family back in Bangladesh. The expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry confirmed, as New Age reported early May, that the female workers were crowding the safe homes in their desperate bid to return home as they complained about torture and overload of works. The Bangladesh consulate general’s office in Jeddah found 50 per cent of the complaints about sexual abuses to be true. It is also evident from opinions of experts that women migrant workers are often cheated by the brokers and recruitment agencies. These incidents brings to the fore the brazen apathy of the government to ensuring the dignity and rights of migrants workers, who are one of the important contributors to the national economy.
The government, therefore, must ensure safety and security for female migrant workers through bilateral negotiations with Saudi Arabia before initiating fresh moves to send more women as household service workers there. The government must also take up the issue of workers rights violation in international forums such as the Colombo process, the Bali process and the Abu Dhabi dialogue.
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