But still no major breakthrough in major markets, say insiders
Despite the Covid-19 situation improving thanks to mass vaccination drives across Asian countries, Bangladesh is yet to reap its benefits regarding the labour markets such as Malaysia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar.
Experts such as policy-makers, economists, migrant specialists, leaders of the Bangladesh Association of international Recruiting Agencies (Baira) and high officials of the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), told the Dhaka Tribune.
Bangladesh exported a total of 217,669 workers in 2020, as against 700,159 workers in 2019.
This drastic drop is attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But as of August this year, Bangladesh exported a total of 275,791 workers to different countries, showing a sign of recovery this year, said a Baira leader while talking to Dhaka Tribune recently.
With massive vaccination drives in Bangladesh and other Asian countries, labour exports to different countries may reach 450,000-500,000 by the end of this year, he added.
Of the 275,791 workers, 215, 580 were sent to Saudi Arabia, a whopping 78%.
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.
Bangladesh had exported a total of 10,57,056 skilled and unskilled workers to the Southeast Asian country during 1976--2019 period, according to the BMET.
The pandemic caused a 69% nosedive in 2020, compared to the previous year. Other factors also contributed to the fall, such as political tension in the middle-eastern countries, budget cuts in mega-projects, economic slowdown and policy of recruiting local labour in the oil-producing countries.
Bangladesh exported a total of 14 workers to Malaysia in 2021, 125 workers in 2020, 545 workers in 2019, 175,927 workers in 2018 and 99,787 workers in 2017.
The country exported only 684 workers to Malaysia during the 2019-2021 period, as of August this year.
Bangladesh exported 93 workers to Kuwait, 1744 workers in 2020, 12,299 workers in 2019, 27, 637 workers in 2018.
SM Zillur Rahman, chairman of Rahman Group and former director of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Dhaka Tribune that revival of markets in Malaysia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait is important to boost labour export.
The former DCCI director also said that the mass vaccination drive is a large contributor to the revival.
As labour exports are recovering, the government should also devise mid and long term strategies to send more skilled workers abroad as some more labour markets are expected to reopen this year, said a Baira member.
Ali Haider Chowdhury, former secretary general of Baira, told the Dhaka Tribune that UAE has opened its labour market to Bangladeshis, and the labour export to this Gulf country may reach 50,000 next year.
Bangladesh exported a total of 93 workers to Kuwait in 2021, 1,744 workers in 2020, 12,299 in 2019 and 27,637 workers in 2018.
The country also exported 5,207 workers in 2021, 3,608 workers and 50,292 workers to Qatar.
Chowdhury, however, is not optimistic about reopening the labour market in Qatar and Kuwait.
On opening the labour market in Malaysia, Ali Haider Chowdhury, also director of East West Human Resources Centre Limited, said that syndicates are active both in Bangladesh and Malaysia that stood in the way of exporting labour to the Southeast Asian country.
Bangladesh should engage in constructive dialogue with the UAE to resume export of labour to the Gulf country, which is the second-largest destination for Bangladeshi migrant workers in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia, he added.
Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, former secretary-general of Baira, said there were currently around 500,000 Bangladeshis employed in the UAE.
Since the UAE stopped receiving Bangladeshi workers in 2012, it’s been tough to track the exact numbers of Bangladeshi migrants over there. But I think it will be around half a million, Noman said.
Every year, two million enter the labour market in Bangladesh. Out of that, a significant amount get jobs in overseas countries.
But migration costs need to be reduced to ensure welfare of migrant workers.
On June 22, 2018, Malaysian newspaperThe Star reported that an organized syndicate of 10 agents, led by a Bangladeshi businessman having alleged political connections with the Malaysian home ministry, raked in at least two billion Malaysian ringgits (around Tk4,000 crore) from 100,000 Bangladeshi workers in just two years.
Considering that 200,000 workers have gone to Malaysia, the figure might be Tk8,000 crore.
Each of the workers paid RM20,000 (around Tk 4lakh) to their Bangladeshi agents, who then paid half of the sum to the syndicate to have work permit approvals and flight tickets to Malaysia, said the report.
On August 14, 2018, the then Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, said the system of 10 agents authorized for recruitment of workers from Bangladesh resulted in a monopolistic situation.
Calling the whole process a total mess, Malaysian Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran on June 23 in 2018 said the previous administration managed the whole recruitment process like a business aimed at benefiting certain individuals.
The then Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister, Nurul Islam, in 2018 said selection of 10 Bangladeshi recruiting agents was made by the Malaysian government in 2016, apparently evading his ministry's responsibility in holding the agencies accountable.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, a top Baira official said that their members are in negotiation with counterparts in Malaysia to resume exports of workers to the Southeast Asian country.