The Daily Star

This is screaming for attention. Five thousand Bangladeshis working in a Kuwaiti company couldn't put up with the ignominy anymore. They had to go on strike protesting underpayment and irregularity of wages in a gross breach of contract.

The details read horrific and would bear repetition just to bring out the essence of crudity associated with the degree of exploitation and deprivation our expatriate workers are subjected to in some fraternal countries. The Kuwaiti company in question pays them 18 dinars instead of the promised 50 a month; workers are made to work for 16hrs a day without overtime and weekly holiday; five dinars are deducted per day for absence due to illness; some have gone without leave for eight to ten years; a number of workers were not paid two months' wages -- the list is endless. To top it all, just to be able to deny their basic rights, the company officials force workers to sign contracts at variance with those they had signed before coming to Kuwait.

The Kuwaiti company, local intermediaries and host authorities have an obvious share of the blame for the turn of events. For, their attitudes have caused the degeneracy of Bangladeshi workers into modern day slavery and bonded labour conditions. Equally blame-worthy would be our recruitment agencies, the ministries of expatriate welfare and foreign affairs and to that extent the government for allowing such maltreatment of our labour in foreign lands.

The hurling of insults and looking down upon expatriate Bangladeshi workers abroad is a discrimination that does not behoove the spirit of twenty-first century. Why are we so weak in protecting the legitimate rights of our workers in foreign countries? Why the manpower and expatriate welfare ministry has failed to make the recruitment agencies negotiate the right terms and conditions for our workers. What makes our missions abroad sit over complaints lodged with them by the aggrieved workers, let alone supervise their conditions by paying visit to their workplaces? They have earned a notoriety for their incompetence in taking issue with the host governments.

Our economy is critically dependent on the largesse of remittances from Bangladeshi wage earners abroad amounting to dollar six billion annually already. We never tire of sounding upbeat with a twinkle in the eye that it is possible to raise the figure to Tk12billion in a few years' time.

What are we giving them in return? Not even minimum dignity. To our mind, they are being exploited not just by the companies in host countries but also by us.


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