Dhaka
January 18th, 2018
Business / শিল্প-বাণিজ্য
Garment girls earn foreign exchange and overseas female domestic workers send remittances
September 14th, 20102,467 views

There are more than 4000 garment factories throughout the country providing employment to about 3.5 million workers, more than 90% of whom are women or young female workers. Garments are the biggest export industry of the country with annual earning of about $12.5 billion, ($01 =Tk. 69.40). The Garment Girls, therefore, have made Bangladesh proud. Similarly, Bangladeshi maids in overseas jobs may soon become a great source of foreign exchange earning. Remittances from overseas workers, which amounted to $10.7 billion in 2009, are the second biggest foreign exchange earner for the country. There is a possibility of the number of overseas domestic female workers swelling to 100,000, making Bangladesh first in the region in the race for employment in the overseas market for female workers. It will be an exciting combination -- the Garment Girls earning foreign exchange and the Overseas Female Domestic Workers sending remittances.

Nearly 60,000 Bangladeshi females work in the Middle Eastern Arab countries for about Tk. 10,000-12,000 a month. To that may be added 7,000 more female workers who have been engaged in war-torn Lebanon in July 2010. Now, in August comes a bigger proposal under which 40,000-45,000 females would to be hired by Singapore as domestic maids for a higher wage of Tk. 12,000-16,000 a month.

In Singapore, there are at present about 200,000 Bangladeshi male workers. According to Singapore's Association of Employment Agencies, about 190,000 housemaids, who should have educational qualification of grade 8, are required in Singapore at monthly salary of $250.

Filipino and Indonesian maids who work in Singapore are now demanding higher pay. They have found better prospect for their services in Canada and European countries. An advertisement by a domestic service provider gives more details: Over 15 qualified Philippine nurses (males and females) with over three years experience are ready right now to come and work in Israel as caregivers. They are doing Hebrew language courses.

In Singapore, a lot of busy parents are experiencing hassles dealing with their household chores and careers and children at the same time. Hiring a live-in caregiver or a domestic maid is a solution. She will take care of the children and elders in the family while the parents cope with their busy life. With the gradual departure of Filipino and Indonesian home helpers, there is a growing gap in the domestic work market.

Singapore is smart to spot Bangladeshi maids, many of whom have working experience in the Middle East, and the most attractive criteria for the agency are their small rate of payment. The story of the lowest paid garment worker is known to all service provider agencies in the region.

However, the Singapore proposal needs to be evaluated against the Overseas Employment Policy which was announced by the Ministry of Expatriates Welfare & Overseas Employment (MEWOE) in October 2006. The policy is based on the articles 20 and 40 of the Bangladesh Constitution which say that the state is pledge-bound to assist all citizens, males and females, in creating opportunities for employment as per their qualification. The main objective is to generate employment within and outside the country.

The policy is guided by a number of principles. In #10, it is mentioned to make provision for rewarding and honouring recruiting agents on the basis of their contribution in opening new markets… success in sending significant… skilled female workers…for procuring demands at low migration costs with better salaries.

The focus of the policy is on protecting rights of migrant workers. Human rights practices and labour laws of receiving countries are to be reviewed and these are to be disseminated among the migrant workers. It is important for a recruiting agency to maintain close contact with the Bangladesh mission in the receiving country.

In Singapore, immigrant workers come under the categories of foreign talents and foreign workers. The later refer to semi-skilled or un-skilled workers in construction, domestic services, and manufacturing sectors. The majority of these workers are from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Thailand as part of bilateral agreements between Singapore and governments of respective countries.

In 1981, the Singapore government announced its intention to phase out all unskilled foreign workers by 1991 except domestic maids and those employed in construction and shipyards. The immigration policy, announced in 1987, was intended to control foreign workers inflow. A monthly levy was to be paid by the employer on each foreign worker employed, and a 'dependency ceiling' limiting the total number of foreign workers employed by a single employer was introduced. Through the levy and the 'dependency ceiling' the government continues to control and regulate workers inflow with changes in the domestic labour market conditions.

'Bangladeshi workers in Singapore: a Sociological Study of Temporary Labour Migration', an empirical study by M.Rahman, focuses on the social and cultural factors for 'demystifying the myth' of the over-simplified economic explanation that over-population and poverty trigger migration. Review of this work may enlighten policy makers, though my apprehension is that the study is gender-skewed.

About a year and half ago the Financial Express reported in March 2009: 'Flights home haunt Bangladesh workers in Singapore.' Nearly 20-50 workers were being sent home by different flights. The Singapore job market was saturated and their Ministry of Manpower was investigating into illegal employment of job agents including unacceptable accommodation and failing in making due payment. An intervention made by the labour wing of Bangladesh High Commission for facilitating realisation of insurance money of the workers was at the root of the problem.

There is then an urgent need to review the reported situation prior to entering into a new agreement with Singapore on hiring of domestic maids from Bangladesh.

Overseas employment system: There are at present about 724 licensed recruiting agents. The Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) co-operates with Ministry of Expatriate Welfare & Overseas Employment in implementing government rules and directives.

In 1984, the government established a company, the Bangladesh Overseas Employment & Services Limited (BOESL), to operate in a healthy competition with private recruiting agencies.

Earlier in 1976, the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) was established as an attached department of the then Ministry of Manpower Development and Social Welfare which now is the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare & Overseas Employment.

BMET mainly deals with the migration process, licensing of recruiting agents, administration of 14 Technical Training Centres, an institute of Marine Technology and three apprenticeship training offices.

The 2006 Overseas Employment Policy, when compared with the overall global migration and employment situation, calls for a revisit, particularly in the context of female workers and their employment at home and overseas. The policy is inadequate and does not reflect the need and aspirations of the ever-increasing female workers. There is no coordination between the training, if at all, and their job market situation, mostly as domestic workers, caregivers, home-helpers, nursing and similar works. There is no definition of domestic work, it is mostly unspecified, and the pressure of work varies with the mood of the male or female employer. Domestic work is very personalised; the scope of the work is invariably, undefined. Compared to other job training, training in domestic work is largely dependent on practice and experience. Domestic job market, like the health and well-being sector, is primarily a humane discipline.

The female labour force: As women's work is centred round the informal sector of the economy it is a matter of concern how the female labour force participation is reflected in the economic planning document of the country. Even though most urban women are paid workers in the domestic and garment areas, female labour force participation is shown to be the highest in the agriculture sector. There are big segments of unpaid women workers engaged in post-harvest activities covering maintenance and care of agricultural products such as seeds or surplus grains within the individual households. There is, thus, an urgent need to quantify women's household/domestic agricultural activities for a more accurate data on the female labour force participation.

Similar quantification in other sectors such as fisheries, poultry and livestock, non-farm employment for rural women, and women entrepreneurship development would improve the system of data collection on female employment and work.

Huge under-counting also prevails on the data of male labour force participation and working situation within the urban informal sector -- the most glaring example is the transport sector which commute human haulers and gypsy-knee type vehicles on irregular routes for the mobility of the poor and the lower middle class people. Rickshaws, which engage hundreds of thousands people, and workers and artisans in micro and small businesses and in parts making are not counted.

Women's work in the service sector is vastly under enumerated. A glaring example is the innumerable beauty parlours in the large cities and moffasil towns. Young females work at hair cutting and colouring, facial, message, and pedicure-manicure services. The working hours and rates of these often tribal female workers, who work in this service sector, are not quite clear. In the health sector there are many women workers who work for years together on ad hoc basis with small earnings not adequate to cover their personal or family expenses, are left out of the counting system.

Facing facts: Human resource development is the goal of the 2006 Overseas Employment Policy. To actualise this purpose there has to be an efficient monitoring system that covers the employer and the worker during the period of employment. Such monitoring system needs to be a part of the cost in the employment contract, with details on right to resign or take leave without pay. The regular rate of monthly payment to the worker needs most urgent attention in the policy document. Equally important is to introduce a monitoring system on the total behaviour of the licensed recruiting agents. Yet, there is hope. It is not altogether a dismal story on the overseas and domestic work situation. We need to face facts for only then we can address the issue.