New project to support migrant workers not enough
We are pleased to hear that the government has undertaken a new project to support migrant workers who have returned home to Bangladesh during the pandemic. Under this, 200,000 migrant workers will be provided with career counselling and given Tk 13,500 in order to help them find employment or become entrepreneurs. This will be done through offices in 30 districts and in collaboration with the World Bank.
While it is commendable that the authorities are providing social, psychological and financial counselling to migrant workers, many of whom have gone through traumatic experiences during the pandemic, we must point out that this, along with the financial assistance, is hardly enough for returnee migrants who are struggling to find employment and repay their migration loans. According to a recent survey conducted by Brac, UN Women Bangladesh and the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, these loans amount to an average of Tk 76,000, and a maximum of Tk 7 lakh. The Tk 13,500 being offered as financial assistance is only a drop in the ocean in the face of such hefty debt.
According to a report in this daily, the new project will cost an estimated Tk 427 crore, of which the World Bank will provide Tk 425 crore and the government will provide the rest. If the project proposal is approved, the Wage Earners' Welfare Board of the ministry will be responsible for implementing it. This means that the government will contribute only Tk 2 crore to the project. However, we know that the Wage Earners' Welfare Board has a lot more funds at its behest (although so far, they have not exercised any transparency and made their accounts public). Given that research suggests that the average monthly savings of households (dependant on migrant wages) decreased by 62 percent and household debts increased by 31 percent between April and November last year, it would not be amiss to suggest that more could have been done to provide these workers with a safety net.
The new project is also meant to target 23,500 selected skilled workers so that they can have more opportunities at home and abroad. We hope more funds and efforts will be concentrated into re-skilling migrant workers so that they are able to work abroad again. This is absolutely crucial for migrant workers, and not only during the pandemic. In the short run, we hope the authorities will make every effort to ensure that migrant workers are vaccinated and able to weather the costs of travel and quarantine in order to return to their workplaces abroad.