Policy makers and other stakeholders are struggling to retain old labour markets and exploring new ones in preparation for the post-Covid era, but there is still an urgent need to uphold the principles of a fair and ethical recruitment process, according to experts.
This is a precondition for optimising the experience of migrants, because unfairness in the recruitment process remains a harsh reality for many such Bangladeshis, they said at a virtual discussion on Tuesday.
Addressing the occasion organised by Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), Bangladesh Civil Society for Migrants (BCSM), and Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), RMMRU Executive Director Dr CR Abrar said, "The recruiting agencies and their sub-agents play an important role in connecting workers with overseas employers.
"However, concerns have been raised regarding the role of unscrupulous employment agencies, informal labour intermediaries and other operators acting outside the legal and regulatory framework. Such parties are preying on migrants, especially on low-skilled workers."
He continued, "It is vital that the authorities concerned bring these intermediaries under regulatory compliance, and put an end to visa trading. The authorities should also recognise ethical recruiters by providing them with incentives.
"Besides, unscrupulous recruiters should be blacklisted and penalised. The issuance and renewal of recruiting licenses should be on the basis of merit and performance instead of other factors."
Speakers at the programme discussed a number of unethical recruitment practices widespread in source countries, including the recruitment of workers without valid authorisation, deception about the nature and conditions of work, high fees charged, delay in processing migration and securing flights.
Issues such as improper job placements, failure to provide written contracts, unclear and undocumented recruitment process, violation of rules stipulated by the government, retention of passports, Illegal wage deductions, and not fulfilling contractual agreement are also prevalent.
In the circumstances, the experts emphasised the need for bringing middlemen both at source and in destination countries under legal compliance, and eliminating the practice of visa trading perpetrated by overseas employers.
Such steps will minimise migration costs, they added.
Speaking on the occasion, Barrister and lawmaker Shameem Haider Patwary, the chief guest, said, "I call for framing a code of conduct on recruitment. Countries that receive labourers should acknowledge the contributions of migrants in building their economies, and thus treat them with respect and dignity."
IOM Bangladesh's Chief of Mission Giorgi Gigauri said exploitation of migrants begins at the recruitment stage and so ensuring ethical recruitment will go a long way in addressing their plight.
Shahidul Alam, director general of the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, highlighted the social costs of migration, and the need for developing appropriate policies and programme interventions so that distressed migrants can be provided with meaningful support.
He pointed out that migration should be a matter of choice and not a necessity.
More than four lakh Bangladeshis migrated for overseas employment during the period 2011 to 2019. The figure drastically dropped to 2.17 lakh in the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The massive demand and limited scope for overseas employment has created a situation in which unscrupulous agents may take advantage of the urge of aspirant migrants to seek employment abroad.
This is likely to contribute to an increased incidence of unethical and fraudulent recruitment practices, and also of irregular migration involving trafficking and human smuggling, the experts warned.