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Report/Press release

International labour migration from Bangladesh: A decent work perspective




Tasneem Siddiqui


The study reveals that short-term migration has been extremely successful in creating a large number of jobs for Bangladeshis. Along with the employment of workers overseas, it has also created jobs within Bangladesh. In the public sector a few agencies and a new ministry have been created to manage migration. The facilitation of migration has created jobs in the private sector as well. Analysis of the nature of overseas jobs shows that the Bangladeshi migrant labour market is changing all the time. New countries of destination have emerged. And while a larger number of professionals and skilled workers used to migrate in the early years of short-term migration, Bangladesh has now created a niche in the unskilled and semi-skilled market. Over the years, the total value of remittances has increased in absolute terms, but the value of per capita remittances has declined. Overall, the remittances sent by migrants have a major impact on the national economy.

This section shows that institutional arrangements to ensure rights at work for the Bangladeshi migrant workers are poor. Neither Bangladesh, nor the labour-receiving countries has ratified the international instruments on the rights of
migrant workers. Successive Bangladesh governments have found it difficult to sign memoranda of understanding with the receiving countries. Meanwhile, the enactment of various laws at the national level since 1976, has failed to reduce the exploitation of potential migrants even in accessing work. In comparison with unskilled workers, formal sector factory workers enjoy relatively better work conditions. However, there is still a large gap between the
wages of male and female migrant factory workers, with studies showing that female workers receive much lower wages than their male counterparts. The salary of unskilled workers has fallen drastically both in the Gulf region and in
South-East Asia. In addition, a considerable number of workers do not receive their wages on a regular basis and freedom to move from one job to another is restricted for both skilled and unskilled workers.

In certain jobs, short-term migrant workers enjoy benefits that are redeemable at the end of the contract period. While professionals, skilled workers and semi-skilled workers usually receive such benefits, informal sector workers such as cleaners, grocery store workers, domestic workers and vendors do not. The contracts of the later groups do not include these rights. In most of the Middle Eastern countries, primary health care services are available free of charge in the public sector of major cities. However, the cost of medicines and tests has to be borne by either the workers or their employers. In Bangladesh, the Wage Earners’ Welfare Fund has been created - mainly through subscriptions from migrants - in order to provide welfare services. The creation of the Fund by the Government is an innovative approach to providing a measure of social protection for migrant workers. However, use of Welfare Fund became quite controversial in the late 1990s. Very little share of the Fund was spent to directly benefit the migrant workers. The Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh filed a case with the Bureau of Anti-Corruption (BAC) in the 2001. The Ministry for Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment framed rules in December 2002 to streamline the use of the Fund. The Fund is managed by a board comprising of officials of different ministries and representatives of private recruiting agents. Migrant workers on the civil society have no representation on the committee. The use of the fund needs to be made more transparent

The discussion above shows that the scope for Bangladeshi migrants to join trade unions in the receiving countries is limited. As a result, the mechanisms for social dialogue are almost non-existent. In most of the labour-receiving countries, migrants have developed their own associations. These associations provide effective services which help migrant workers adapt to the new socio-cultural milieu of the host countries. These associations also become an important source of information for the migrants and, to some extent, fulfill their cultural and social needs. The returnee migrants’ associations currently operating in Bangladesh have played an important role in focusing on the rights of the
migrant workers. With their first-hand knowledge, they can provide very effective services to both outgoing workers and returnees. However, they need support in order to strengthen their institutional capacity. Trade unions can play an important role in ensuring the rights of migrants in processing migration before departure. They can also serve the workers by developing collaborative programmes with the trade unions of the receiving countries.

Document number


Number of pages


Responsible institution

Policy Integration Department National Policy Group International

Place published




Bangladesh, Trade union, migrant rights, social security, recruitment agents

Economic sectors

General relevance - all sectors

Content types

Policy analysis and Support initiatives

Target groups

Policymakers, Public awareness, Employers, agencies and their representatives, and Researchers

Geographical focuses


Spheres of activity

Economics, Law, and Management of human resources