• Tuesday, Jun 28, 2022
  • Last Update : 04:24 pm

OP-ED: Reviving overseas labour export market

  • Published at 10:30 pm August 26th, 2021
Migrant workers
File photo of Bangladeshi migrant workers holding passports SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Thousands of Bangladeshis lost their jobs as the countries in the Middle East have halted a number of development projects

The export of labour in the overseas markets suffered last year as Covid-19 had spread worldwide.

The virus has claimed lives of over 4 million people, and infected over 10 million people worldwide since January, 2020

Thousands of Bangladeshis lost their jobs as the countries in the Middle East have halted a number of development projects amid dip in oil prices and spread of coronavirus.

The spread of Covid-19 has, particularly, hit labour exports badly in oil-producing Middle-Eastern countries, according to data from the Bureau of Manpower and Employment Training (BMET).

Bangladesh's labour export dropped by over 69% in 2020 as against 2019, according to BMET statistics, against the backdrop of Covid-19 outbreak across the world, political tension in the Middle-Eastern countries, budget cut in mega-projects, economic slowdown and policy of recruiting local labour in the oil-producing countries.

Bangladesh exported a total of 217,669 workers to overseas countries during the January-December period of the last calendar year as Covid-19 hit the labour market global market.

The country had exported a total of 10,57,056 skilled and unskilled workers  to the Southeast Asian countries during 1976--2019 period, according to BMET.

Bangladesh exported a total of 700,159 workers in 2019, 734,181 workers in 2018, 10,08,525 workers in 2017 and 757,731 workers in 2016 to different countries

It exported a total of 195,240 workers during the period of the January-May with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recruiting 73.96% of the total. Bangladesh exported a total of 35,732 workers in January, 49,510 workers in February, 61,653 in March, 34,145 workers in April and 14,200 in May.

Labour exports started picking up in December with the country sending a  total of  175,293 workers during December--March period, according to BMET.

Meanwhile, the number of expatriates working in Saudi Arabia, a major destination of Bangladeshis workers, fell by 257,200 during the third quarter of 2020 compared to the second quarter, according to labor force survey conducted by the General Authority for Statistics of Saudi Arabia

On the other hand, the number of Saudis employed in the labour market rose by 81,900 quarter-on-quarter (QoQ), reaching 3.25 million, during the same period.

Meanwhile, nearly a sixth of Oman’s expatriate workers left the Gulf Arab country in the first 11 months of 2020, after losing their jobs because of the pandemic, the Times of Oman reported, citing government figures.

The National Centre for Statistics and Information calculated that 272,126 foreign workers departed, leaving the non-Omani work force at 1.4 million. Most were from Nepal, Uganda, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Egypt.

Wealthy Gulf monarchies have for decades depended on unskilled and skilled foreign workers to transform their economies.

But with no formal route to citizenship or permanent residency, and no social safety nets, many expatriates who lost jobs due to measures to curb the spread of the virus have been forced to return home.

Though seven months of the current calendar year passed, Malaysia has not opened its market to Bangladeshi workers.

Malaysia has virtually stopped recruitment of Bangladeshi workers since 2019 citing various reasons.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian government reiterated its stance on the freeze of the recruitment of foreign labour and to prioritize on creating employment opportunities for the locals.

Human Resource Minister Datuk Seri M Saravanan said despite pressure from some sectors that needed foreign labour, the government wanted the job vacancies to be filled with local workers.

Therefore, he said, Malaysians, especially youths, are advised to register under the MYFutureJobs program, which offers various job opportunities, especially in the agriculture, services, plantation and construction sectors.

“We are still facing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the implementation of the MCO (movement control order), we do not allow the recruitment of foreign labour, we want our people to have jobs," he said when appearing on the Ruang Bicara Bernama TV program recently. 

Saravanan explained that before the implementation of the MCO last year, a total of 1.7 million registered foreign workers were recorded and the number continued to decline after about 500,000 returned to their countries of origin.

Meanwhile, political stress between Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur, high number of irregular Bangladeshi migrants, unethical practices of some labour export agents and high migration costs stand in the way of resuming labour export  to Malaysia.

Though the Bangladesh mission in Kuala Lumpur has no reliable statistics on undocumented Bangladeshis living in Malaysia, some 200,000-300,000 Bangladeshis are undocumented.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian government has postponed the multi-tier levy system for legal migrant workers until January 1, 2022, said the country's Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M Saravanan

Thousands of Malaysian citizens who became unemployed due to the economic downturn due to Covid-19 will be given priority for employment.

Malaysia's high dependence on foreign workers is expected to decrease as tariff rates increase in line with the dependency ceiling. "Besides, transparency and accountability of the quota system for hiring foreign workers will be ensured".

As Covid-19 has hit hard export of labour to different countries in 2020 and during January-July period, Bangladesh should start extensive dialogues at the top level with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, UAE, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan to regain and expand labour markets in 2021.

As labour exports plummeted in 2020, the government should also plan to send more skilled workers abroad in 2021 since some closed labour markets are expected to reopen next year.

Bangladesh’s inward remittances have hit a record of over $24.77 billion in fiscal year 2020-21 with the global economy recovering from the swirling effects of the coronavirus pandemic amid outbreaks and lockdowns.

The remittances sent by expatriate workers in the last financial year marked a robust 36.1 percent year-on-year rise from $18.2 billion in 2019-20.

The country received over $1.94 billion in June, up by 5.9% from the same month last year, after opening the fiscal year with a monthly record remittance of $2.6 billion in July last year, according to latest data published by the Bangladesh Bank.

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