WAGE theft, the denial of wages or employment benefits, of migrant workers has come to be an issue of concern since the COVID-19 outbreak. Millions of migrant workers are reported to have suffered from job loss and wage theft and returned to their countries of origin empty-handed. Bangladesh, which has about 12 million migrant workers in about 170 countries, has also seen a surge in reverse migration since early 2020. The number of migrant workers who returned home hovers around 2–5 lakh and most of them have lost their job and suffered wage theft. Millions of workers across the world have, as migrant rights activists said in an international conference on Tuesday, been deprived of their rightful wages and benefits by employers, pushing the workers to uncertainty amidst the pandemic. The speakers also focused on the absence of initiatives of international agencies and governments of the countries of origin and destination in ensuring labour rights and the reintegration of migrants who returned. Foreign missions of the countries of origin have also failed to stand by the migrants at a time when many were in need of support more than ever.
Wages should be protected in any situation, more so in times of emergency. Wage theft is a global agenda and should be prioritised by governments of the countries of origin and destination and by the United Nations and other international agencies. Governments of the countries of origin should, as rights activists say, blacklist the companies and employers that have not paid wages and benefits to workers and negotiate with the governments of the destination countries to make the employers pay the workers. Bangladesh has so far not been reported to take any effective action to help migrant workers faced with wage theft in destination countries nor has the country been able to take any reintegration programme to incorporate migrant workers who returned in the local economy. The government spoke of reintegration and rehabilitation to better use the skills of such migrant workers on several occasions, but has not as yet been able to do anything to this end. A lack of political will and the unwillingness of the government to support the cause of migrant workers are what has come to leave them in a sorry state in destination countries amidst the pandemic.
The government must, therefore, stand by the migrant workers who have returned home and who are in need of support in destination countries. Bangladesh missions abroad must also take steps to help migrant workers. The protection of migrant worker rights is a cross-border issue and it must be dealt with in view of the international nature of the problem. The Bangladesh government must take up its concern with international forums to ensure the well-being of migrant workers abroad. The government must also draw up reintegration programmes to help the migrant workers who returned.
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