February 24, 2024, 3:56 pm


Rajib Kanti Roy

Published:
2023-12-07 14:35:44 BdST

Little headway in exploring alternative labour markets


The government’s move to explore alternative labour markets has apparently yielded no outcome except for the signing of a few memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with several countries having little opportunity to recruit significant amount of workers.

Therefore, Bangladesh’s labour migration sector is still depending solely on traditional destinations like the Middle East countries, and Malaysia and Singapore amid risk of losing the current pace of workers’ outflow.

“The urgency required to diversify our workers’ destinations is largely absent among those responsible for the task. We have lack of proper preparations and execution plan after assessing the necessities. Therefore, we lag behind in meeting the demands of crucial labour markets,” Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP) Chairman Shakirul Islam said.

He said the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment has signed MoUs with a few countries but this may not be able to bring any effective results as the countries involved with the deals do not need to hire workers in big chunks.

Lingering dependence on traditional markets

According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), Bangladesh has exported a total of 9,89,685 workers to different countries in nine months from January to September this year.

Of them, some 3,49,493 or 35% went to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), 2,86,040 or 29% to Malaysia, 1,06,848 or 11% to Oman, 78,937 or 8% to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 40,743 or 4% to Singapore, 34,061 or 3% to Qatar and 29,735 or 3% to Kuwait, while the rest of 63,828 or only 7% of the total workers migrated to other countries.

Besides the reopening of some old markets, the government has signed MoUs with a few potential countries and is sending workers to Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Poland, Russia, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bolivia, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Albania, Malta and several other countries of the African continent like Senegal, Burundi and Seychelles though the labour migration to these new destinations is yet to reach a significant level.

The BMET has not disclosed the number of labours migrated to these new destinations in the first nine months of this year but one of its officials, wishing anonymity, said the number is less than 20,000.

Experts warn of sudden collapse in workers’ outflow

Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) Executive Director Dr CR Abrar said the excessive dependency on 7-8 markets poses serious risks of a sudden collapse in labour migration.

According to him, Bangladesh should remain cautious in this regard considering the recent visa ban imposed by the Oman government on Bangladeshi citizens.

“Apart from looking for new geographical locations, we need to know which trades have high demands in which areas. The demand for workers is surely not similar from the Middle East and Europe. We have to understand their future demands and prepare our workers accordingly,” he said.

The veteran migration expert said the continuation of sending low-skilled labour may not help Bangladesh explore new destinations.

The country will be able to diversify destinations only if it provides proper skill development training to workers complementing the demands of international markets, he said.

“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were huge demands for workers in tourism and hospitality, construction and agriculture sectors,” the RMMRU executive director said, adding that the demand has now increased for caregivers, nurses and medical technologists where the country should focus more.

He emphasised proper market research for expanding the labour markets.

Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Secretary Dr Ahmed Munirus Saleheen said the government is conducting research to assess the demands of international labour markets.

“We’ve concentrated on research and the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working to explore new markets apart from reopening the old ones,” he said.

The secretary said they have already signed MoUs with some countries while more such deals with other countries are on the cards.

“Apart from Malaysia, Bahrain, Libya, Japan, Italy and Greece, some other old labour markets have been reopened. The Maldives is legalising around 1,25,000 undocumented Bangladeshi workers, paving the way for more to go there,” he added.

“We’re also sending workers to a number of new destinations,” Munirus Saleheen said, adding that some 15¬-20 European countries will be new destinations for Bangladeshi workers in the future.

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