The Saudi Arabian government is allegedly putting pressure on Bangladeshi recruiting agencies to send female workers to the kingdom, although women are reluctant to go there for fear of torture by employers.
Baira Secretary General Monsur Ahmed Kalam said the Saudi embassy in Dhaka stopped issuing worker visas to Bangladeshis in August for a week, demanding the agencies send housemaids to the kingdom.
Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira) at that stage wrote to the expatriates welfare ministry, seeking its intervention in this regard, he told The Daily Star.
Fear of abuse and poor salaries hold back women from seeking jobs in the Arab country, added Kalam.
The Saudi authorities are not hiring Bangladeshi male workers through recruitment agencies since 2008. Only a few are going to the kingdom to work for their relatives' businesses there, said sources.
According to Baira, around 50 females, who had been in KSA for the last few months, returned home recently for various reasons. Many of them complained about abuse by their employers.
“Some family members of the expatriate workers sought our help to bring back their relatives as they were facing problems in Saudi Arabia,” said Kalam.
Recruiting agencies alleged that the Saudi authorities were pressing for Bangladeshi female housekeepers as they couldn't hire enough women from the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal and India following media reports of alleged abuse and torture of housemaids.
Media reports said a Saudi employer last month chopped off a hand of an Indian woman as a punishment for poor work. The incident called into question the Saudi government's sincerity in protecting foreign workers.
Kashturi Munirathinam, 55, is now receiving treatment at a hospital in the Saudi capital Riyadh, her family told the Indian media.
The Indian government had lodged a complaint with the authorities in Riyadh in this regard. “We are very much disturbed over the brutal manner in which the Indian lady has been treated in Saudi Arabia,” Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj wrote in Twitter.
The Baira on February 10 entered into an agreement with Saudi Arabian National Recruitment Committee for sending female workers to KSA for a monthly salary of SR 700 (around Tk 14,525).
Private recruiters were hopeful they would be able to send 10,000 maids to Saudi Arabia a month, but they fell well short of the target.
Officials at Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) said around 3,000 female workers have joined Saudi jobs since the signing of the agreement, while several hundred others have been receiving training.
An October 8 report of the Arab News said “Bangladesh failed to send five lakh maids to KSA” as per the promise it had made earlier this year.
The Baira, however, said women were not interested in taking up housemaid's jobs in Saudi Arabia as their offered monthly salary was quite low compared to SR 1,200-1,500 of women workers from other countries.
“After conducting a survey in all the 64 districts, we found that our women were unwilling to go to Saudi Arabia. There are some problems in the kingdom that discourage females from going there. Only some very poor women showed interest in Saudi jobs,” said Baira Secretary General Kalam.
Kalam claimed that the Saudi authorities were not hiring male workers as housekeepers though the agreement stated that both male and female workers would be recruited under 12 categories.
Talking to this newspaper, Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Nurul Islam said women didn't want to accept Saudi job offers.
“There is no bar on women from working in Saudi Arabia. We are just not finding enough female workers,” he added.
Rights bodies said some 10,000 Bangladeshi female workers are currently employed in KSA.
The Saudi embassy official concerned in Dhaka didn't respond to emails and text messages from this correspondent seeking his comments.
Meanwhile, the expatriates welfare ministry yesterday told a meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on the ministry that manpower exporters could not send enough housemaids to KSA as there is a negative perception about the Saudi job market for women, said meeting sources.