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Is the job market in Saudi Arabia shrinking for Bangladesh?

  • Published at 12:46 am October 18th, 2018
Till August, at least 48,000 workers have returned from the Middle East - most of them from Saudi Arabia Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Meanwhile, more than 1,500 Bangladeshi female workers—who used to work as domestic help—have returned from the country this year, facing difficulties in the workplace including sexual abuse, physical torture and wage related irregularities

With the implementation of new policy of Saudization in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, many Bangladeshi expat workers along with other foreign workers have become victims, losing their jobs. 

In January, the Ministry for Labor and Social Development in Saudi Arabia issued a decree to limit work in 12 sectors in an effort to empower Saudi citizens and provide them with more job opportunities in the private sector. 

Since the decision came into effect in the last few months, over 700 Bangladeshi expat male workers have been deported from Saudi Arabia till yesterday, according to the NGO Brac. 

“Saudi Arabia has recently started deporting our workers. Today (Wednesday) 80 male workers arrived in Bangladesh from Dammam city.  A large number of these workers claimed they had been deported despite having legitimate visas and work permit with them,” said Shariful Hasan, head of Brac’s Migration Program. 

“This year till August, at least 48,000 workers have returned from the Middle Eastern countries - most of them were Saudi returnees. Many of these workers went there with free visas,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. 

Brac officials said at least 590 workers have arrived in the country from Saudi detention camp in Dammam city. Of them, 144 male workers were deported on October 4 and 150 on October 5. A further 110 workers returned on October 7 and 106 on October 10. 

Madaripur’s Md Aslam Miah, one of yesterday’s returnees, went to Saudi in 2017. He used to work at a furniture workshop.

He said: “Policemen detained me from my workplace despite having a valid visa and work permit with me. They put me in jail for four days.” 

“I have spent Tk 800,000 to go to Saudi Arabia but they deported me before I had earned back one third of the money. I do not know how to recover the loss,” he lamented, speaking after arrival at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. 

Another returnee Shahadat Hossain from Sirajganj said that he was deported within 10 months after going to Saudi Arabia. 

“I had managed Tk 800,000 on loan and by selling family properties. One day, I was returning from a mosque after saying Fazr prayer when police detained me,” he said.

“I tried them to convince that I was a legal worker and I had all documents but they did not pay any heed to me,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. 

According to the daily newspaper Saudi Gazette, expatriate workers are now barred from working in watch shops, optical stores, medical equipment stores, electrical and electronic shops, outlets selling spare parts for cars, building material shops, outlets selling all types of carpets, automobile and motorcycle shops, shops selling home furniture and ready-made office materials, sales outlets for ready-made garments, children’s wear and men’s supplies, household utensil shops, and pastry shops. 

Meanwhile, more than 1,500 Bangladeshi female workers—who used to work as domestic help—have returned from the country this year, facing difficulties in the workplace including sexual abuse, physical torture and wage related irregularities.  

According to Brac, over 5,000 female workers have returned from Saudi in the last three years. 

PM’s intervention saught

Bangladeshi experts and immigration labor organizations want Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is currently visiting Saudi Arabia at the invitation of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, to discuss the matter to solve the problem.

Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP) Executive Director Md Omar Faruque Chowdhury said the victims of Saudization policy are not only Bangladeshis but also other expat workers. 

“But since we have around three million Bangladeshi workers in Saudi, we are suffering a lot in this situation,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

“Our prime minister is visiting the country right now and I think our government is already informed about the problem. So I am expecting she will place the issue before the Saudi authorities,” he said. 

Labor and immigration analyst Hassan Ahmed Chowdhury Kiron said that Bangladesh authorities should negotiate with their Saudi counterparts to keep their job market sustainable in the country. 

“Bangladesh is one of the important allies of Saudi Arabia. Due to new policy of the Saudi government, hundreds of thousands of our workers are at risk of losing jobs or works in that country. I think we should properly address the problem and find out a solution so that our workers in that country can work safely,” Kiron said. 

“Besides, Bangladesh should immediately start migration diplomacy. Its workers are often underestimated comparing to other foreign workers in Saudi. An Indian or Sri Lankan worker earns more than a Bangladeshi despite providing less time and labour,” he explained.

“This is because of our failure in diplomacy. Our expat workers have huge contribution for the country but most of their problems remain unaddressed,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. 

According to Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), a total of 3,580,494 Bangladeshi workers, both men and women, have gone to Saudi Arabia from 1976 till September 2018. 

Of them, 187,223 workers have gone in 2018 and 551,308 workers in 2017, the BMET statistics show.

Time to probe other job markets?

Besides Saudi Arabia, there are many potential job markets for Bangladesh across the world and the country should take strong position in those markets, said Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, the secretary general of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira). 

He said that the decision of Saudization policy was an internal affair of Saudi Arabia and any country could take steps for their own interest. 

“Definitely Saudi Arabia is a big traditional market for us but our workers are already working in Malaysia, Brunei, Iraq, Libya and Arab Emirates. Many East European countries including Russia will require so many skilled workers in the upcoming years and we should take these opportunities,” he said. 

“To do so, we have to concentrate on two things—developing training standards and solving existing problems of our expat workers,” Noman told the Dhaka Tribune. 

“We must hold the employer countries responsible those who issue visa but do not provide jobs after our workers go there. Because our workers are the ultimate sufferers and the government must ensure legal assistance in their favour,” he added. 

When contacted, Md Aminul Islam, additional secretary of the Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, said that they always place the labour issues while discussing with their Saudi counterparts. 

“The secretary of the ministry is currently with the prime minister in Saudi Arabia and some discussions will be held on labour issues. The prime minister has gone there with necessary preparations,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.