- Wage theft amid pandemic
- 92% returnees who faced wage theft did not register complaints in the destination countries
- UAE returnees topped the list with average loss of $2,853
- 48.6% returnees lost jobs in destination countries
- 63% were forced to return or stay back in Bangladesh
- Highest number of wage theft in construction sector
- 48% respondent want to re-migrate
- Around 88% returnee migrants did not know about the government's reintegration program
- Around 5 lakh Bangladeshi returned from destination countries amid pandemic
- Experts recommend transitional justice mechanism and structural reform of the labour migration system
A recent study has found out that around 67.7% returnee migrants did not receive due wages in the destination countries while 38.7% received reduced wages amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
On an average, a returnee migrant lost over Tk1.79 lakh in wages and other entitlements in workplace, found the research jointly conducted by the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit (RMMRU) and Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA).
The researchers found that 92% of the returnees did not register complaints in the destination countries as they did not have enough information about where to file complaint, had no reasons to believe that recovery was possible, feared of retaliation from employers and getting blacklisted for future migration opportunities, depended absolutely on employer, and were restricted in their movements.
The study titled "Addressing Systemic Challenges of Wage Theft: Bangladesh Covid-19 Returnees from the Gulf States" was published in a virtual event organised by the Bangladesh Civil Society for Migrants (BCSM) and RMMRU on Wednesday.
Around 1,160 migrants (85% male) in 45 districts who returned from six Gulf States – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait – after February 2020 were interviewed from 25 March to 6 May this year under the research.
The returnees from the United Arab Emirates topped the list with an average loss of $2,853, followed by Kuwait ($2,513), Qatar ($2,075), Saudi Arabia ($1,985), Oman ($1,668) and Bahrain ($1,363).
Among the returnees, 48.6% lost jobs and 63% were forced to return or stay back in Bangladesh at the instruction of their employers.
Covid-19 had taken a huge toll on the respondents, most of whom were gainfully employed during the pre-Covid-19 period with an average salary of around Tk28,000.
"The experiences exposed the systemic weakness of the protection structure of migrant workers in the region particularly during an emergency situation. The arbitrary action of the employers in terminating workers in violation of the contract and without due compensation was stark," CR Abrar, executive director of RMMRU, said while presenting the study findings.
"The failure of the destination countries' administrations and the limited capacity of the concerned missions to render assistance to the aggrieved workers were evident. The policies of forcible and unplanned repatriation have harmed the interests of the workers, as many had to return to a condition of debt bondage," he continued.
"The magnitude of wage theft makes a compelling case that not only a transitional justice mechanism is the need of the hour, there is also an urgent need for the structural reform the labour migration system to address the systemic failures," he added.
Wage theft is the denial of wages or employee benefits rightfully owed to an employee.
The highest number of respondents who faced wage theft were from the construction sector (38%) while the rest of them were involved in gardening, cleaning, domestic works, hospitality sector, driving, sales, trading, managerial jobs, nursing and paramedics.
Around 4.8 lakh Bangladeshi have returned from the destination countries amid the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training.
Comprehensive measures recommended for preventing wage theft
The research as well as the panelists in the event emphasised on the proactive roles of the Bangladesh missions in the destination countries. Besides, they wanted the UN organisations' involvement to resolve such violation of human rights.
"The International Labour Organisation, International Organisation for Migration and other concerned international bodies are active in the destination countries. Our government should try to engage these forums to get the lost wages of migrants," said Asif Munier, a migration specialist.
If any unpaid wages and other benefits remain pending, then the foreign missions can take the power of attorney from the migrants and pursue settlements of claims subsequently, the research recommended.
It said the registration process needs to be conducted by the Bangladesh missions before the workers are repatriated.
Besides, the countries that send and receive labour should begin an urgent dialogue to ensure that they have learnt lessons from the emergency situation triggered by Covid-19 and brought necessary changes in policies and practices in dealing with labour migrants.
The other recommendations came for the emergency situation like lockdown. The study recommended measures so that the migrant workers can contact their employers. It also called for a review of the Kafala system to provide the migrant workers facing termination the option to get an opportunity to find a new employer.
48% respondents want to re-migrate
The study found that 48% of respondents want to re-migrate abroad while the rest of them want to start business, jobs, farms and off-farm engagements here.
The Bangladesh government has initiated a reintegration programme for the returnees, but 87.7% of them said they did not know about it. Almost all (97.5%) returnees were interested in securing any assistance.