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Press reports: Dialogue on Safeguarding Interests of Bangladesh Migrant Workers

Jointly organised with Bangladesh Government and ILO under the programme for “Promoting Decent Work through Improved Migration Policy and its Application in Bangladesh”, the CPD dialogue on “Safeguarding Interests of Bangladesh Migrant Workers: Issues of Financial Inclusion and Social Protection” was held at Lakeshore Hotel on Wednesday 21 October 2015.

View more news reports on the event

Published in The Financial Express

Focus on best global practices to uphold migrant workers’ interests
Speakers opine at a dialogue

FE Report

Focus on best global practices to uphold migrant workers’ interests

Bangladesh’s inclusive economic growth largely depends on sustainable remittance inflow, and the government should focus more on the best global practices for safeguarding migrant workers’ interests, the speakers opined at a dialogue on Wednesday.

They termed migration as a major tool for upgrading the country from the level of least developed country (LDC) to the league of developing countries. They called upon the government to concentrate on some areas, including equipping the migrant workers with the right set of skills and languages before they depart for jobs to earn more.

Besides, effective use of remittance, ensuring social protection to remitters and their families, and reduction of remittance-sending costs are also vital to this effect, they observed.

On the matter of curtailing cost of sending remittances, they suggested strengthening the capacity of Probashi Kallyan Bank (PKB) and Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET).

They also sought immediate intervention of the Bangladesh Bank (BB) to fix a uniformed rate of transfer charges at a level to encourage more remitters to send their money through legal channel.

The observations came at the dialogue titled ‘Safeguarding Interests of Bangladesh Migrant Workers, Issues of Financial Inclusion and Social Protection’.

Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and International Labour Organization (ILO) jointly organised the discussion at a city hotel, where ministers, high officials, bankers, economists, academicians, rights groups and civil society members shared their views on the topic.

Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Nurul Islam and Member of CPD Board of Trustee and former caretaker government adviser Syed Manzur Elahi co-chaired the event.

Presenting the keynote paper, CPD Executive Director Professor Mustafizur Rahman said Bangladesh became the 8th highest remittance-receiving country of the world securing US$ 15.3 billion in FY 15, an increase of 20 times over a period of two and a half decades.

He said the total remitted amount was equivalent to 7.4 per cent of Bangladesh’s gross general income (GNI). Remittance is contributing to macro-economic level through forex reserve and helping maintain healthy external balances.

It is also making significant contribution at household-level through increasing income, consumptions, savings and investment, and thus helping sustained graduation from poverty.

“So, the overall contribution of remittance cannot be ignored, and the role of remittance is now being highlighted at various global forums as a key means of implementation in the context of the SDGs (sustainable development goals),” he said.

According to the keynote paper, there is a need for renewed efforts in Bangladesh to safeguard the interest of migrant workers through reduction in cost of sending remittances, making more options available to the workers to promote their greater inclusion in the financial ecosystem, and promoting the cause of sustainable migration through better social protection.

Speaking as the chief guest, Planning Minister A H M Mustafa Kamal termed remittance as the lifeline of Bangladesh, saying the country’s inclusive economic growth will not be possible without sustained inflow of remittance.

He was critical over various restrictions that are now taking place, and said Bangladeshi migrant workers cannot go to the overseas job markets due to such restrictions despite immense demand for them.

He said the government has paid serious attention to the economically-vibrant community to further intensify their skills in the coming days to reach its target of getting US$ 25.39 billion by 2020.

“We’ve another problem that needs to be addressed properly, that is language, and due to lack of language skills Bangladeshi workers are getting comparatively lower salaries than those of other countries,” he opined.

Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Nurul Islam said the government would like the cost of sending remittance to Bangladesh to be low. Rrecent studies suggest that remittance is contributing to household welfare and giving boost to small enterprise activities in the rural areas.

“There is also macro-economic proof that economies with financial services can propel the growth of poor and reduce income equality.”

The minister also informed that BMET and the Wage Earners Welfare Board will provide social protection mechanisms as much as possible for migrant workers.

World Bank’s Dhaka office Lead Economist Zahid Hussain said economy of migration is now getting into the mainstream economy.

Citing a study report, he said private recruitment agencies are relying heavily on middlemen, and average financial loss of each failed attempt is US$ 392 and only 17 migrant workers got formal job paper.

He said middlemen are the riskiest channel, but aspirants chose them because of faster service delivery they got from the middlemen than the formal channel.

Syed Manzur Elahi in his speech said skilled workers can remit more. For example, migrant workers of the Philippines send home more in remittance compared to Bangladeshi workers.

“But we are stuck in the unskilled segment of the labour market,” he said.

BMET director general Shamsun Nahar said they are providing various kinds of trainings, like – pre-departure and country-specific trainings, to the people, going for overseas jobs.

He also urged the rights groups and other stakeholders to share with them their updated training-related plans, so that they can include those for increasing efficiency of the Bangladeshi workers.

State minister for planning and finance M A Mannan called upon the banks and other financial institutions to introduce agent baking all over the country with updated and remitter-friendly technology to avert the presence of middlemen.

He also emphasised uniform remittance transfer charges of the banks to bring all remitters under formal channel.

Former finance minister M Syeduzzaman was, among others, also present at the dialogue.


Published in The Daily Star

Train workers before they go abroad: analysts

Star Business Report

Bangladesh’s migrant workers toil in foreign lands for longer hours compared to peers from other countries, but they earn much less as they lack skills and face a language barrier.

Experts yesterday called upon the government to equip aspirant migrant workers with the right set of skills and languages before they depart for jobs, so they can earn more and avoid exploitation.

Syed Manzur Elahi, a former adviser to the caretaker government, said skilled workers can remit more.

For example, Filipino migrant workers send home four times more in remittance compared to Bangladeshi workers, said the founder of Apex Group.

“But we are stuck in the unskilled segment of the labour market.”

Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal, however, said skills are not a problem for the migrant workers. “Many Bangladeshis, who went to Saudi Arabia a few decades ago, now own shops and markets there. Our main problem lies in language proficiency.”

Sri Lankan workers earn up to 70 percent more than their Bangladeshi counterparts because of their fluency in English, he said, speaking at a dialogue — Safeguarding Interests of Bangladesh Migrant Workers: Issues of Financial Inclusion and Social Protection — at Lakeshore Hotel in Dhaka.

The expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry, the Centre for Policy Dialogue and the International Labour Organisation jointly organised the programme with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

About 9.5 million people have gone abroad to 157 destinations, with an estimated 5 million still holding jobs abroad, said Prof Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of CPD, in his presentation.

Over the years, remittance has turned out to be a key driver of the economy.

Money sent home by migrant workers was $15.3 billion in 2014-15, which was $0.7 billion in 1990, $1.9 billion in 2000 and $3.8 billion in 2005.

Bangladesh is a major supplier of predominantly low skilled and unskilled workers, making up about 46.2 percent of the workforce, mostly concentrated in the Gulf countries, said Rahman.

He said 87 percent of the migrants did not receive any training prior to their departure.

As many of the host countries start to experience demographic shifts, the structure of their labour demand is expected to undergo important changes, he added.

“This has important implications for the development of needed skills and catering to the emerging demand for financial inclusion.”

The economist said there is no comprehensive policy for social security and protection for migrant workers; besides, no bilateral social security schemes have been signed with host countries.

MA Mannan, state minister for finance and planning, said agent banking can help in a great way in bringing remittance in a cost-effective way.

“Technology can defeat the middlemen.”

Nurul Islam, minister for expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment, said Probashi Kallyan Bank will be turned into a scheduled bank so it can offer full-fledged financial services to migrant workers.

Zahid Hussain, lead economist of the World Bank in Dhaka, said migration issues are increasingly becoming important in economics as it gives jobs to workers.

He, however, painted a bleak picture of the migration scenario, citing a World Bank-Brac study that was conducted in 2014 among 3,054 migrant households and 3,122 prospective migrant workers.

It showed that the cost of a failed attempt to migrate averaged $392, while only 17 percent had formal job contracts.

Their wages per hour was Tk 110 against an expectation of Tk 125, meaning they toiled for long hours but got low wages, said Hussain.

Although middlemen are riskiest channel for migration, people still turn to them as they provide faster migration, the economist added.

Srinivas B Reddy, country director of ILO, said it is opportune that issues of employment, decent work, social protection and remittance are well covered in the Sustainable Development Goals and migrant workers are recognised as a specific category facing vulnerabilities.

“Now it is time for the workers, employers and the government to collaborate and live up to this commitment they made [in the UN] in September this year.”

The cost of remittance transfers needs to go down in all corridors, he said.

Beate K Elsaesser, deputy head of mission of the embassy of Switzerland in Dhaka, said the issue of migration is now more focused in the 7th five-year plan of Bangladesh.

“It has been identified as a driver for growth and poverty reduction, and as a potential factor to boost the economic development of those regions of Bangladesh that are lagging-behind.”

Salahuddin Kasem Khan, president of Bangladesh Employers’ Federation, called for accelerating vocational education at SSC and HSC levels and collaborating with worker-receiving countries so they can be trained according to their specifications.

Muhammed Nurul Amin, managing director of Meghna Bank Ltd, said banks would be happy to train workers without any cost.

Khandaker Md Iftekhar Haider, secretary of the ministry of expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment, Sheepa Hafiza, director of migration programme of Brac, and Zakir Hussain, a deputy managing director of Mutural Trust Bank, also spoke.


Published in New Age

Migrant workers ignored in ADP allocation

Staff Correspondent

Migrant workers remitting home billions of dollar to feed the country’s economy have always been ignored by the government in allocating funds to facilitate their training and welfare and ensure their security abroad.

Allocation for the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment in the Annual Development Programme was a negligible 0.09 per cent of the total allocation in the financial year 2014 while it was barely 0.1 per cent in 2015 and 2016 each.

The country’s expatriate workers sent home US$ 15.3 billion in 2015 financial year. There are some five million Bangladeshi workers toiling in the foreign countries now.

The findings were revealed in a study presented on Wednesday at a dialogue titled Safeguarding Interests of Bangladesh Migrant Workers: Issues of Financial Inclusion and Social Protection, jointly organised by Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment ministry, Centre for Policy Dialogue and International Labour Organisation.

Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of CPD and team leader of the study, presented a paper at the dialogue in this regard.

Speaking on the occasion, state minister for finance and planning MA Mannan patted the migrant workers for helping to build the US$ 26 billion forex reserve for the country.

He termed the toil and hard workers of the migrant workers ‘fuel’ to drive the country’s economy. The junior minister, however, did not commit to raise the ADP allocation for providing training, welfare and ensuring safety of the expatriate workers at their workplace and their proper rehabilitation when they return home.

The study showed that 87 per cent of the migrant workers did not have any training prior to their departure from the country, which is the main reason for getting lower wages and being deprived of other basic rights.

Mustafiz, in his paper, said that a skilled worker could send home 36.5 per cent more money than that of an unskilled worker.

He said that Bangladesh was a major source of unskilled workers for the global market.

Planning minister AHM Mustafa Kamal, while speaking as chief guest, however, said that skill was not a problem for the migrant workers. ‘Many Bangladeshis who went to Saudi Arabia a few decades ago now own shops and markets there. Our main problem lies in language proficiency,’ he added.

The government, in the seventh five-year plan, partially addressed the issues related to providing financial support to facilitate migration and to ensure safety and security of the expatriate workers and their families, according to the study.

It also said that the average stay of the migrant workers was found to be between five years and six years while the average of the returnee migrants was bellow 35 years of their age.

Mustafiz suggested for utilising the skilled workers after they return home.

EWOE minister Nurul Islam, secretary Khandoker Iftikhar Haider and Switzerland ambassador in Dhaka Christian M Fotsch, among others, participated in the dialogue.


Published in The Independent

CPD calls for financial inclusion of migrant workers

Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal (left), Minister for Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Nurul Islam (center) and adviser to a caretaker government Monjur E Elahi attend a meeting titled “Safeguarding interests of Bangladeshi migrant workers: Issue of financial influence and social protection” at a hotel in the capital yesterday. INDEPENDENT PHOTO

The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) has pitched for the welfare of migrant workers, saying such people needed social protection at all times during pre-migration, their stay at the host country and post-return as well.     “There is also the need to increase the number of subsidiary banks overseas and renewed efforts are required to encourage overseas workers to use the banking services, and not go for just remitting money,” said CPD executive director Prof Mustafizur Rahman.

Rahman said this while presenting the keynote address at CPD-hosted meeting titled “Safeguarding interests of Bangladeshi migrant workers: Issue of financial influence and social protection” at a Dhaka hotel yesterday.

The meeting was moderated by former adviser to the caretaker government Monjur E Elahi. Among others, planning minister AHM Mustafa Kamal, minister for expatriates welfare and overseas employment Nurul Islam, state minister for finance and planning MA Mannan, World Bank’s Dhaka office lead economist Zahid Hussain, former finance minister M Syeduzzaman, and expatriate welfare secretary Mohammad Iftekhar Haider spoke on the occasion.

“There is need for a global accord to ratify core ILO conventions by all host countries,” Rahman said. “A monitoring mechanism can be set up as part of the SDG implementation monitoring process,” he added.

On his part, the planning minister hailed the migrant workers for playing an important role in earning foreign currency for the country. “Thanks to migrant workers, the remittance inflow to the country is increasing every year. Bangladesh is expected to achieve a remittance inflow of $ 25.39 billion by 2020,” Kamal added.

Kamal rued that migrant workers from Bangladeshi earned less than their counterparts from other countries because of poor English language skills. “This is a great problem. We have to take remarkable steps in this regard,” he added.

Kamal’s cabinet colleague Nurul Islam said everybody’s support was needed to make migrant workers aware against sending money through risky and expensive channels.

“The banking sector and we need to think of ways to provide the migrant workers and their families access to the types of formal financial services that are available to other income groups,” he added.

The expatriate minister further said the government would like the cost of remittance to Bangladesh to be low.

Referring to recent studies, the minister suggested that remittances should go towards household welfare and small enterprise. “Remittance flow helps to improve the livelihood of the poor and reduce income inequality,” he added.


Published in Dhaka Tribune

Most Bangladeshi migrant workers do not have contract papers

Tribune Report

Speakers at a dialogue on ‘Safeguarding Interests of Bangladesh Migrant Workers’ held in Lakeshore Hotel Dhaka yesterday

Only 17% of Bangladeshi migrant workers have their formal job contract papers in their possession, according to a research finding.

Referring to a research report prepared in 2014, World Bank’s lead economist Zahid Hussain said the findings showed that private recruiting agencies heavily rely on middlemen to recruit potential migrants from rural Bangladesh.

The study covered 3,054 migrant households and 3,12,0 potential aspiring migrants.

He revealed the findings at a dialogue on Safeguarding Interests of Bangladesh Migrant Workers: Issues of Financial Inclusion and Social Protection, which was jointly organized by Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in the city yesterday.

CPD Board of Trustees member and former advisor to the Caretaker Government Syed Manzur Elahi moderated the event.

“One of the crucial findings in this survey was that less educated and unskilled workers go through the middlemen for migration,’’ said the World Bank lead economist.

Financial loss associated with failed attempt to migrate is about US$392 on an average, which means $250 medium, according to the findings.

“This is like you pay money to middlemen and you lose it,” said Hussain.

Actual wages per hour was Tk110 against an expected wage of Tk125 and this 12% difference is because of both working higher number of hours than he was told and lower wages than they were promised, he said quoting the survey.

“The middlemen channel is the riskiest channel of all, out of all other alternative channels. But, again one has to be careful because reducing reliance on middlemen is bit simplistic. It is simplistic because the middlemen deliver migration faster,” he said.

Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said Bangladeshi people are much better than any other countries like Philippines.

The minister, however, said the main problem is our people cannot speak English. A Sri Lankan worker is getting 60 to 65 % higher wages than Bangladeshis because they are able to speak English.

“The government is collecting information if remittances are spent only on household consumption or any other investment for ensuring effective use of it,” said the minister.

Bangladesh Employers’ Federation President Salahuddin Kasem Khan said a study report showed 40% skilled workers in 2010 had gone abroad, but it dropped 34% in 2012. “This is something that the government should look at.”

He underscored the need for operationalisation of human resource development fund for producing skilled labour forces.

Minister for Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Nurul Islam said migrant workers are the driving force for achieving middle income country.

He said there are 41 training centres and six institutes marine technology where people are being trained up for going abroad.

He said state-owned Probashi Kallyan Bank (Expatriate Welfare Bank) would be turned into scheduled bank for making migration cost zero.

Presenting a keynote paper, CPD executive director Mustafizur Rahman said issues of migration and remittances have become very important in the context of some of the recent global development.

In the global forum, migration and remittances are recognised as major tool for graduation from LDC country to middle income country.

According to his paper, from 1971, about 9.5 million workers have left the country at different time.Migrant workers contributed 7.4% of total national income and 5% of the country’s total work force is working abroad.

Only 0.15% of total development and non-development expenditure was spent for the development of migrant workers.

Most of the investment goes to construction purposes and less than 1% of remittances are saved in the government various institutions, said the keynote paper.


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