Rehabilitating migrant workers | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 18, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 18, 2009

Rehabilitating migrant workers

Do we have jobs for them?

THE economic meltdown that started with the US economy is causing repercussions all over the world and pulling nearly all developed and non-developed economies into a recession, which experts believe will continue for at least a few years.
As a consequence, these economies/countries will face difficulties in carrying out their budgetary goals, and will either cancel or postpone projects -- signs of which are already visible in the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Bahrain, where the majority of our migrant workers are employed.
Dubai's real estate boom has collapsed due to financial inability of the project owners. Newspapers are reporting that many professionals are leaving the Emirate. However, low paid workers, like our migrant workers, are prohibited from leaving. There are reports also that their wages and food and other allowances have been curtailed and they are living a life of despair and great uncertainty.
While business leaders in Bangladesh are already looking into the consequences of this meltdown through the formal trade bodies and interacting with their members -- one area which I feel is not being looked at is the prospect of a flood of returnees from the Middle East/ Far East who will start pouring in when the host countries start laying them off.
It is about time that the government starts formulating plans/strategies to face such a situation.
The Migrant Forum in Asia states: "Any massive retrenchment would worsen poverty in the migrant's home country. Families dependent on (overseas) remittances will find now that nohing is coming in and it might further aggravate the poverty situation."
William Gois, the regional coordinator of the Migrant Forum of Asia based in Manila also stated that: "The Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, which are key exporters of human labour, would be most affected." Gois said that there were more than 53 million migrant workers from Asia employed worldwide, mostly in the Gulf countries and the Middle East.
While there have been no reports so far of large lay-offs, workers interviewed by AFP said that they were worried. "Of course, I am afraid," a Bangladeshi worker. "I don't understand much about the reason of the crisis, but I am just concerned that my company will be affected." Any slowdown in the construction sector would affect thousands of migrant labourers from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand and China.
Another problem is the presence of large numbers of migrant workers without proper documents in the host countries. Quite naturally, in times of economic slump, the first thing that governments would do is to crack down on undocumented workers because they are seen as a burden on the economy and a problem for the society.
The government should take this matter seriously and immediately form a task force to look at all the ramifications and formulate strategies so that, in case of any eventuality, the country will be ready to face any situation.
Recognising that the funds remitted by the expatriate workers account for the highest income in foreign currency, when the tide turns the other way it is expected that the government will face the situation with courage and fortitude and come to the rescue of these returning migrant workers.
Over the years such remittances have been the backbone of the economy, and still are. If the chain is broken it will have a devastating impact -- this is another area, which will need to be considered.
The returning workers will have to be rehabilitated and assimilated in the changed situation, hence a lot of effort by the concerned agencies of the government will have to be made to make it conducive for this transition -- otherwise not only social unrest but also the family fabric will breakdown, with consequential impact in all fields.
I am sure the government, being a pro-people government, will rise to the occasion and address this serious issue boldly and methodically before it explodes out of proportion.

M. Afzal, FCA, writes from Jeddah.

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