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Dhaka Tribune

Welfare of migrant workers: Govt officials to meet Saudi authorities Wednesday

Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad visited Saudi Arabia in September, and on his return directed the ministry to hold the 'stalled' meeting as soon as possible

Update : 25 Nov 2019, 09:48 PM

A five-member delegation comprising high officials of expatriates’ welfare ministry, and foreign ministry is scheduled to meet with the authorities of Kingdom Saudi Arabia (KSA) Wednesday to resolve disputes relating to Bangladeshi migrant workers, and ensuring their welfare.

Secretary of Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Salim Reza will be leading the delegation, while Joint Secretary (mission branch) Zahid Hossain, Joint Secretary (admin and service section) Sarwar Alam, Director General of Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training ShamsulAlam and a director-general level official from Ministry of Foreign affairs will be part of the delegation.

Confirming the matter, Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Joint Secretary (mission branch) Zahid Hossain said the meeting would be held as a part of the regular annual meetings between the countries. Usually held in March, the meeting was delayed this year.

Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad visited Saudi Arabia in September, and on his return directed the ministry to hold the “stalled” meeting as soon as possible.

Since it is difficult to talk about such technical issues over a ministerial-level meeting, this meeting is held to address such issues to ensure a better workplace for the expatriates regardless of its number, Zahid said.

When asked, he denied commenting over the issues to be discussed at the meeting as they have set some tentative issues which will be finalized after holding a meeting, first and foremost, with the Bangladesh Embassy in Saudi Arabia, scheduled to be held on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a source at the ministry said a meeting was held last Thursday to decide possible issues to put on the table during the meeting with Saudi Arabia.

The possible issues to be discussed are taking measures to ensure safety for Bangladeshi female workers, upgrading legal issues regarding their safety, visa trading through the formal channel, and so on.

Asked about the issues, Joint Secretary Zahid said although female workers’ safety is a major concern, the meeting would not be held centring on that issue alone, rather, it would include overall wellbeing for all male and female workers.

According to the ministry, around 2,93,000 female workers went to the Middle Eastern country of which some 8,000 female workers returned in the last four years.

Many migrant workers returned after completing their contract, but people generalize all workers with those who brought allegation of abuse and torture, the official said.

About 800 women have returned to Bangladesh till September of this year alone.

The Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, earlier in September, found that 35% of the returnee female workers from a group of 111 were victims of sexual and physical abuse, while 43% received wages irregularly.

The report identified 11 fundamental reasons why Bangladeshi female migrant workers fled their workplace. They include physical and sexual abuse, inadequate food, no leave, and irregular salaries, among others.

There is no specific agenda till now. However, the ministry wants to address some issues like upgrading the information system in case employers change in Saudi Arabia, ensuring contract after completion of two years, as it would ensure tracing the workers’ present address, the joint secretary said.

He said the issue of visa trading would be given emphasis. The internal policy of the kingdom’s government has changed, and the Saudi government is becoming strict with regards to foreign workers, and are strictly following the cardinal rule that the workers work under the company they came to work for.

So, free visas, collected mostly by the migrant workers, later causes harassment, and they are forced to return home, Zahid added.

The official also stressed that ensuring compensation following accidents in the workplace, and issues related to insurance are also scheduled to be discussed in the meeting.

According to the officials from the ministry, the delegation would return home on November 29.

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