Bangladeshi Migrant Workers: Challenges and Opportunities in the New Normal

Amrina Rahman

With an amount of $15.5 billion, Bangladesh had the third-highest position in South Asia in receiving remittance in 2018 which became $18.32 billion in the next year. There might also a chance to make this figure even bigger but the COVID-19 pandemic has made the whole situation uncertain. 

After hitting the lowest amount in the past six years in 2016-17 fiscal year, Bangladesh revived its growth and was persistent in the past years. According to BMET(Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and  Training), Bangladeshi people work in 168 countries (KSA, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, etc.) and among these KSA has the highest concentration. With a vision to achieve sustainable development within 2030, a total of 58,13,499 people went abroad during the last 10 years (2009-2018).  But due to COVID -19 situation, it is completely clear in the chart depicted on the BMET website after  February 2020, Bangladesh loses its pace in this arena. 

 In January and February 2020, Bangladesh earned 1438.53 USD and 1452.20 USD respectively making a total of 3090.73 USD. To protect Bangladeshi migrant workers from unemployment, a strategic, feasible,  and immediate action plan should be formed.  

New Normal, New Challenges: 

The pandemic situation is putting our workers into new challenges. Unemployment, uncertainty, insecurity are taking place everywhere.-To face this, the priorities should be: 

• Protecting jobs; 

• Ensuring their basic human rights (food, shelter, health services); 

• Assuring their protection against coronavirus. 

Protecting Jobs: 

Researchers estimate that 42% layoff due to covid-19 may end up in permanent job loss (source:  www.weforum.org). A lot of Bangladeshis are being forcibly repatriated by different countries. The numbers of returnees from KSA, Maldives, Singapore, Oman, Kuwait, and UAE are respectively 223, 424,  304, 871, 1440, 535. Many other countries are also doing the same in the name of cost-cutting. The  workers can save themselves from unemployment in two ways: 

• Working in the current organization in a different way or  

• Looking for a better alternative 

Working in the current organization in a different way: Many organizations are adapting to this newly emerged reality by switching to demanding industries. Survival is the much-sought word right now and employees should keep their minds open to be aware of the new roles and needed skills. Traditional roles are changing and getting multidiversified. 

1. Changed Roles: 

Many manufacturing companies are changing their roles.

Like, garment factories are making PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) s, gloves, masks, etc. Pharmaceuticals and Wine companies are producing sanitizers and disinfectants at a huge level. Restaurants are delivering foods instead of entertaining customers in physical stores. Some of the oil companies decided to store refined oil rather than their previous manufacturing works. 

Workers need to cope with this sudden change in roles. Our government, our embassies, and ministries should be communicative and careful in case they need any sort of technical or other assistance. 

2. Multidimensional Work: 

Organizations are looking for multitaskers. Like, one person needs to do the cleaning, packaging,  delivery work at the same time as companies are heading to cut down the operating costs. 

3. Making Agreements: 

Workers can offer management to reduce salaries and can shoulder some additional works. Agreement and adjustment should be the approaches. 

Skilled and professionals can adopt some more other ways 

4. Working from Home: 

Digital literacy and skills, like, e-mail, spreadsheet, video calling or conferencing, e-commerce, mobile banking, digital marketing, etc. are the much-needed skills in this changed world 

Freelancing: Companies are hiring more and more freelancers to get their jobs done through the internet and employees are discovering new opportunities every day. 

Web development: Many businesses are going online and they need websites to reach people. This field is also creating opportunities. 

Software and app development: App developers can make their living by building value-adding applied during the pandemic. 

Digital marketing: This sector is literally booming at present. 

Database management: To analyze, process, and record patient and research data, this is the way. Cybersecurity: As more activities are going online, cybersecurity has taken a significant place. If they cannot make their position in their workplaces, an alternative becomes a must: 

Looking for A Better Alternative: 

According to ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, “This is no longer only a global health crisis, it is also a  major labor market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on people.” COVID -19 situation has also opened new doors for a lot of new job fields:

  • Delivery Service 
  • Cleaning and Disinfecting Agents  
  • Medical Products 
  • Supplement Industry 
  • Super Marketing Industry 
  • Agriculture 
  • House-keeping  
  • Home-Gardening 
  • Maintenance Work 

All these sectors are rising, especially during this pandemic. Workers need to keep their network strong to tackle the time. These skillsets may be of use provided by technical training  centers(TTCs)in Bangladesh 

  • Plumbing and Pipe Fitting 
  • Electrical Machine Maintenance  
  • Refrigerator and Air Conditioning 
  • Food and Food processing 
  • Care Giver 

Handicrafts 

Also, the lockdown and quarantined life have created havoc in some industries:

  • Hotel Management and Hospitality 
  • Travel Agencies 
  • Sports Events 
  • Conventional and Catering Services 
  • Mining Industries 
  • Building Materials Companies 
  • Supply Chain  

Bangladeshi embassies and ministries should be well informed about the current situation of the workers and make coordination among potential, hiring industries, and workers. It is a must that our government urges other government officials not to send people back; salaries and facilities can be negotiated. Organizations and agencies, like BAIRA, RMMRU, UN Women, ILO need to have proper data 

of unemployed, half-employed, employed people with the current job, salary, and health condition.  Contacting the rising industries, our authority can engage workers through proper channels. 

Ensuring Basic Human Rights: 

The government of Bangladesh, our embassies, ministries- all should have a central database. If necessary, it will government distribute aids (foods, medicines, etc.) effectively and a database update is necessary. 

Countries Like, Singapore, are supporting migrant workers a lot. So, representatives should inform the  governments about the necessities of our workers. 

Assuring Protection Against Coronavirus: 

As Covid-19 can cost human lives, our people need serious protection to fight this: 

• Our country can open a hotline for migrant workers to guide them in emergency, to know their symptoms, and assure them. 

• During isolation, positive is to stay separate and this should be under observation. • Following the proposed database, the government is to send or ask for protective equipment. • Different applications have developed to examine COVID-19, workers should be introduced to these. 

• Most importantly, their morale should be kept alive which ultimately helps a lot.  

Migrant workers are one of the driving forces of our economy. Already many of them have repatriated,  a full stop is a must right now. Many have lost their passport validity. Relevant banks should come forward with online facilities. We can continue the flow of remittance only by protecting our migrant workers. The time has come to give a thought to Jeremy Corbyn’s quote: ”It is time we recognized the  huge contribution that migration has made to the economic growth of this country.” 

References: 

1.http://www.old.bmet.gov.bd/ 

2.New Age Business 

3.The Daily Star 

4.10 Industries booming due to coronavirus-Dan Lock 

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