Budget Thoughts in Time of COVID-19

Steps needed to develop skills for overseas job seekers

Md Owasim Uddin Bhuyan | Published: 00:03, Jun 02,2020


The global coronavirus pandemic has affected the jobs of over 50 lakh Bangladeshi migrant workers employed across the world and many of the migrants were either being forced or voluntarily returning home at present, according to migration experts.

After being impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak coupled with the global economic recession, hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi migrants have lost jobs abroad.

The inflow of remittance has dropped by 25 per cent in April following the COVID-19 outbreak in different parts of the world, officials said.

Remittances from Bangladeshi migrants working abroad were estimated at US$ 1.08 billion in April 2020, registering a fall of $353 million from the same month a year ago.

It was $1.43 billion in April 2019, according to the central bank’s latest statistics.

Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies senior research fellow Anwara Begum told New age that the government should take immediate steps to groom skilled manpower at home considering their global demand aiming to resend them abroad and revive the remittance flow in the coming days.

Recalling the ‘actually fruitful labour migration of the 1980s’, she said, back then Bangladeshi migrants used to get benefitted securing overseas jobs as migration involved zero cost.

‘In the 1980s, the country’s migrants were able to earn money many times more than the wages received by today’s migrants,’ she observed.

Anwara Begum suggested taking immediate steps to engage the returnee migrants with ‘labour intensive works’ at home to scale up their skills.

Expatriates welfare and overseas employment ministry estimated that over two lakh workers returned home from February to March this year and half of them were jobless.

The ministry officials said that they were prepared to receive a huge number of returnees in the coming days, mostly from KSA, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and the Maldives.

The Middle East is a major destination for Bangladeshi migrant workers. The amnesty in some Gulf countries has revealed that a significant number of migrant workers from Bangladesh are in an irregular situation in those countries and here are fears that they would be sent back home.

An inter-ministerial committee, consisting of foreign affairs, home affairs, civil aviation, health and expatriates welfare ministries, was working to oversee the repatriation of Bangladeshi workers. 

ILO’s Regional Migration Specialist for South Asia Shabarinath Nair stressed the need for a strong inter-ministerial partnership in Bangladesh for successful reintegration of the migrants coming back from destinations.

‘The ministry of labour and employment should be actively engaged with other ministries concerned, including social welfare, health and family welfare, and youth and sports, to help them accommodate in the local markets and for social integration,’ he told New Age.

Shabarinath said that collecting data of returnee migrants to map their current skills would be essential for their reintegration.

Officials and activists said that since jobless migrants continue to return home, huge financial support is required for their reintegration.

The government should make a huge investment from revenue budget for reintegration, rehabilitation, skills development and employment generation for the unemployed work force which was getting larger, they said.

Migrant rights campaigners and civil society organisations recommended budgetary allocation of Tk 40,000 crore, which should be equivalent to 2 per cent of US $15 billion, an average annual remittance, sent by the migrants of Bangladesh.

The proposed national budget for the 2020-21 fiscal is scheduled to be placed before the parliament on June 11.

Over 1.3 crore Bangladeshis are currently working abroad with 80 per cent of them in the Middle East and South East Asian countries.

In a recent study, Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program, a community based migrants organisation, found that about 40 per cent migrants of Bangladesh were facing critical hardship abroad due to either losing their jobs or not having been paid their regular salaries as a result of COVID-19.

OKUP Chairman Shakirul Islam told New Age that their study was done on basis of the phone calls made to 2,500 migrant workers who spontaneously informed about their problems to the OKUP offices.

To tackle the COVID-19 challenge on migration, he called for creating a multi-stakeholder taskforce to develop a comprehensive reintegration guideline and to ensure its implementation.

‘The government should cover returnee migrant workers in the National Social Safety Net Programme and support the returnee migrants for at least six months till they get involved in new livelihoods,’ he said.

Bangladesh Civil Society for Migration co-chair Syed Saiful Haque called for enhanced allocation and ensuring proper implementation of the budget to protect the interest of the migrant workers.

Due to the impact of COVID-19, he said that a huge allocation would be required for reintegration of returnees, rehabilitation, employment generation, exploring new job markets for migrants stuck at home.

The ‘Youth Economic Survey’ conducted by IID in January, 2020 found that 63 per cent migrants prefer local business as reintegration plan but access to credit was mentioned as one of the major challenges.

IID Chief Executive Syeed Ahamed said that since 20 lakh migrants might face deportation due to the pandemic, the government must ensure affordable credit for them.

Migration experts said that the government should cover the fees for renewal of visas of migrant workers, and therefore, should allocate necessary amount in the 2020-2021 budget.

For skill development and capacity building, they said that the need assessment should be done urgently to prepare the labour force for the post-pandemic global labour market

EWOE ministry’s secretary Ahmed Munirus Saleheen said that the government has taken a 3-step reintegration programme for returnee migrants.

‘The government is helping the stranded migrants to get back home safe and each returnee migrant receiving BDT 5,000 at the airport as allowance,’ he said.

Under the midterm support scheme, he said, BDT 2 Billion was allocated so that migrants could take out loans.

Additionally, the government would take initiatives to create new avenues for the migrants in the global market.

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