WOMEN’S inclusion into formal economy has been considered one of the successes for successive governments. Women contribute significantly to export and remittance earnings as apparel and migrant labourers. They, however, work under constraints as their rights are constantly violated. While apparel workers have some protection under the labour law, women migrants go abroad with minimal or no protection. The Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training shows that the number of female migrant workers has swelled to 118,088 in 2016 from that of 37,304 in 2012. Majority of such women go to different Middle Eastern countries as household service workers. According to the Wage Earners’ Welfare Board, more than 900 women workers have returned home having faced different kinds of abuse, including sexual violence. Employers in destination countries confiscate their passport, withhold wages agreed on, often compel them to work for prolonged hours without food. In many cases, they are sexually exploited. Reported cases of death of women workers abroad is also on the rise. The plight of women migrant workers plight are public knowledge, yet the government has done very little to protect their rights.
Since 2016, at least three lakh women went to the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia and have worked their facing different kinds of abuse. At the moment, about 250 women migrant workers are waiting in the safe home of the Bangladesh embassy in Saudi Arabia. Earlier, a delegation from the ministry concerned visited Saudi Arabia to have a first-hand account of the situation of household service workers there and recommended that the smart cards issued by the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training should also have a provision for the inclusion of information of Saudi recruitment agencies and details of the employers. They asked the government to make it obligatory for the recruitment agencies in Bangladesh to inform the government of household service workers in crisis. For the grievous working condition, the government of Indonesia and the Philippine in 2015 stopped sending their citizens to Saudi Arabia. The Bangladesh consulate in Saudi Arabia made similar recommendations. But no concrete action has so far been taken to change the working condition except for a recent decision to open a shelter near the international airport in Dhaka to support the workers who return. It is important to provide a complete support for the workers returning and help them in their socio-economic reintegration process. It, however, needs to act to protect their rights abroad. The government should immediately strengthen its system to recruit women as migrant workers so that no one leaves the country unregistered and unprepared. In addition, it should open labour wings in all consulates in Middle Eastern countries to monitor labour rights and offer assistance to migrant workers when necessary.
Protecting migrant labour’s rights is a cross-border issue and it must be dealt with keeping to the international nature of the problem. The Bangladesh government must raise its concern in different international forums, including Colombo Process, Bali Process and Abu Dhabi dialogue. It must diplomatically engage with destination countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, so that the authorities there are obliged to take action against abusive employers. For a sustainable solution, the government must resort to international legal instruments specifically designed to address the plight of migrant labour. The way issues stand suggests that the government tolerates the violation of the rights of its workers for economic gains.