Analyzing 400-450 call records from March to September, BOMSA said some female workers were stuck in their employer’s houses in Saudi Arabia. In some cases, their employers did not provide enough food to the workers let alone their due salaries.
Some of the migrant worker’s family members have said that the migrant workers have not received any salary and can’t pay back their loans or support their family.
Farida Yeasmin, BOMSA Director of Programmes, said that they have received many complaints from the women migrants at destinations, including non-payment of wages, abuse and physical torture.
“We will soon raise the issues of wages-theft and other problems of the female migrants with officials of the concerned ministries and the recruiting agencies in Bangladesh,” said Farida Yeasmin who is also a senior lawyer at Bangladesh Supreme Court.
Tortured to Death
Kulsum, a 14-year-old girl from Brahmanbaria, died in King Faisal Hospital of Saudi Arabia on 9 August after she had been tortured by her employer.
The body of Kulsum arrived at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport on 11 September. She was buried at Nurpur village of Nasirnagar upazila in Brahmanbaria on the following day.
Kulsum had gone to Saudi Arabia through a local middleman Razzak Mia after spending Tk 30,000. MH Trade International was the agency that had arranged the documentation for Kulsum 17 months ago.
Family members said the employer tortured her physically and sexually since she joined work. The family contacted the recruiting agency, but the agency did not take any steps to bring Kulsum back.
The family also alleged that the employer and his son broke Kulsum’s knee, back and leg four month ago, and after a few days ago left her on the street after damaging one of her eyes. Later, Saudi police rescued her and admitted her to King Faisal Hospital.
On 17 August, Kulsum’s father Shahidul Islam applied to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) for her dead body and eight months wages.
In their statement, Bangladesh Civil Society for Migration (BCSM), a platform of 19 organizations, raised many questions on untimely death of migrants. They demanded justice for Kulsum through proper investigation.
According to a study released by IOM in August, 70 per cent of returnee migrants to Bangladesh struggle to find employment. A total of 29 per cent of respondents of the study indicated that they had returned to Bangladesh because they were asked to leave the country they were in, and 23 per cent reported that they were worried about COVID-19 and wished to return to their families.
At the time of the interviews, a total of 55 per cent of the respondents who had returned from abroad had accumulated unpaid debt.
Shirin Lira, Programme Lead for Labour Migration project PROKAS, supported by UKAID, said that COVID 19 pandemic has an immense impact on migrating women. Thousands of women who had completed their pre-departure training, manpower procedure, medical test, some had even bought their tickets, could not fly as all migration-related activities have been postponed indefinitely, due to COVID-19 .
“They are also experiencing uncertainty of future employment, family pressure, financial loss and social stigma,” she said.
Shirin also said that the government should make the recruiting agencies accountable to get back their wages.
She said that the government needs to have dialogue and negotiation with the governments of destination countries so that they also shoulder some responsibilities. “Wider collaboration among stakeholders and strong partnership both in Bangladesh and in destination countries can mitigate the problems that women migrants are facing currently due to the pandemic.”
Seeking justice for wage theft
Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), Lawyers Beyond Borders (LBB) Network, Cross Regional Centre for Migrants and Refugees (CCRM), South Asia Trade Union Council (SARTUC), and Solidarity Center (SC) have called for establishing a “Transitional Justice Mechanism” to address the plight of millions of migrant workers who have been repatriated or are awaiting repatriation as a result of pandemic-related job loss.
In a joint statement they said that huge volume of cases of wage theft and other outstanding claims have been heightened at this time and migrant workers’ access to justice should be the priority of governments.
They said that cases could be received directly from migrants themselves or through entities providing support or legal representation to migrants. “All pre-existing case documentations should be referred to the Claims Commissions for resolution. The International Claims Commission could be administered jointly by ILO and IOM together with other relevant stakeholders.”
Md Owasim Uddin Bhuyan, a freelance journalist, who also looks after the interests of BASUG in Bangladesh writes the following news on Bangladeshi women returnee migrants for the Bengali daily newspaper of Bangladesh, Prothom Alo: