Dhaka has proposed a new agreement to address the problems faced by the Bangladeshi migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and also to protect their rights there.
According to officials concerned, the proposal was forwarded at a meeting of joint technical committee in the Saudi capital, Riyadh on 14 March.
"The Saudi authorities have assured Bangladesh of considering the agreement. They also said they would address the problems faced by the migrant workers," deputy chief of Bangladesh mission in Riyadh, Md Nazrul Islam told Prothom Alo.
He said the agreement was proposed to improve working conditions including safety and security and fair wages for the Bangladeshi workers.
A large number of migrants are not getting jobs while female migrants are being tortured physically and sexually in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, stakeholders said.
They alleged that the migration cost is high due to visa trading and unethical practices by a section of unscrupulous recruiting agencies.
As a result, it has been difficult to ensure safe migration, the stakeholders pointed out.
Labour migration to Saudi Arabia has noticeably declined recently.
A total of 66,680 overseas jobseekers went to Saudi Arabia in the first two months of this year while the number was 94,528 in the first two months of 2017, according to Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET).
BMET statistics show a total of 550,000 workers went to Saudi Arabia - Bangladesh’s biggest manpower market - last year.
Officials said around 25-30 per cent of them are yet to get permanent jobs.
Besides, many of 87,000 female domestic workers have allegedly been harassed in various ways.
A large number of expatriate workers are also returning home from Saudi Arabia due to various difficulties. According to expatriates’ welfare desk at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, a total of 50,148 workers, returned home, major portion from Saudi Arabia, last year.
The Bangladesh embassy in Saudi Arabia confirmed that they had given permission to at least 40,000 workers to return home last year. Most of them had to return for not getting any permanent job.
As the problems surfaced in recent days, Bangladesh proposed a new labour deal to improve the situation of migrants in Saudi Arabia by ensuring rights for them.
The problems of migrants were also discussed at another meeting of joint economic commission on 15 March. The meeting was attended by expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry secretary Nomita Halder and Saudi deputy labour minister Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al-Ammar.
Officials at the Bangladesh embassy in Saudi Arabia said middlemen play a key role in sending workers without any fixed job contract. The Saudi authorities have now been working to curb the activities of middlemen in arranging visas.
An agreement was signed in February 2015 to send only female domestic workers.
Bangladesh has proposed the new agreement to send both male and female workers. According to new proposal, a joint committee would be formed to supervise safety and security of all workers, especially the female ones.
According to Bangladeshi officials, the joint committee would finalise the deal. They would also find out a mechanism to solve the problems of migrant workers.
The deal will focus on solving the problems in labour migration, protection of migrant workers and ensuring healthy working atmosphere for them. It would also work to take measures against the persons and agencies involved in visa trading and special measures such as launching a web portal for workers on contractual jobs.
The Saudi authorities are also working to form a committee which will work to accelerate the process of sending the bodies of deceased Bangladeshi workers and to settle compensation related cases.
The Bangladesh officials raised the problems faced particularly by Bangladeshi female housemaids. The Saudi authorities assured Bangladesh of taking necessary measures in line with their country’s laws. The committee would bring some important changes in the provisions of earlier deal including a provision that a housemaid will not have to work in more than one house.
The officials, who attended the meeting, said it was also decided that the recruiting agencies will have to shoulder responsibility for terminating anybody from the job without any reason.
Syed Saiful Haque, chairman of WARBE Development Foundation, a non-government organisation working for ensuring rights of migrants, said although a huge number of Bangladeshis went to Saudi Arabia in recent years, the remittances inflow has declined.
Wage fall, various taxes, illegal visa trading and exploitation of female housemaids are reducing the income of migrant workers, he added.