Bangladesh needs to take steps to protect labours’ rights


Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled

According to a report by labour rights group International Trade Union Confederation or ITUC Bangladesh is among the global 10 worst countries for workers

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights or OHCHR’s body of all migrant workers and members of their families finds that there is “lack of effective measures” in Bangladesh to protect labour trafficking victims and to provide them with effective remedies, including compensation, rehabilitation and other soothing measures. A Committee that works under the OHCHR on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families while giving its concluding observations on Bangladesh said that despite the recent increase, the rates of prosecution remain low and there is insufficient punishment of perpetrators in the case of Bangladesh.

However, the Committee welcomed the increase in the number of labour trafficking investigations and prosecutions as well as provision of funding for nine multipurpose shelters, drop-in centers, and safe homes. The Committee considered the initial report of Bangladesh at its 343rd and 344th meetings held on April 3 – 4, 2017 and adopted at its 359th meeting, held on April 13, 2017 according to the 13-page concluding observations. The Committee suggested Bangladesh to continue its efforts to suppress or prevent and punish trafficking in persons, including at the regional level. It may also cooperate with neighbouring countries like India, Pakistan, Thailand and Myanmar to that end. It may be done through enhanced inter-agency cooperation on human trafficking, in line with target 5.2 percent of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs.

Bangladesh has also been advised to increase its efforts to identify and provide protection and assistance to all victims of human trafficking, including undocumented Myanmar nationals working in the State party, in particular. This is to be done by providing gender-sensitive shelters, medical care and psychosocial and other support to assist in their reintegration into society. Together with those efforts it is also needed to strengthen gender-responsive training for law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors, labour inspectors, teachers, healthcare workers and the staff of its embassies and consulates. It is also necessary to widely disseminate more information on trafficking in persons and on assistance to victims.

The Committee welcomed the regulations of the Wage Earners Welfare Board or WEWB regarding the family of every deceased Bangladeshi migrant worker irrespective of his/her legal status is entitled to compensation and repatriation of the body. However, the Committee is “seriously concerned” at reports that over 5,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers die every year. Of which at least one-third of them are reportedly buried abroad. Quoting information they received the Committee said that nearly one-third of the families of deceased migrant workers do not receive the minimum compensation that they are entitled to. In addition the cost of bringing back the dead body is to a large extent borne by the migrant workers’ family.

The human rights body observed that there is a lack of proper and independent autopsies on bodies of deceased migrant workers in unexplained cases of death. That would not allow establishing cause of death, submitting claim for compensation and also developing policies to prevent or minimise further such deaths. The families of deceased workers face challenges to receive legal support to secure unpaid wages, compensation from employers and to hold the recruiter or recruiting agencies accountable in the destination countries. It is recommended that Bangladesh the State party needs to ensure implementation of the regulation that all bodies of deceased migrants are repatriated free of cost. That should be done with full respect to the wishes of the next of kin, and so that families of deceased migrants can benefit from compensation.

The Committee has recognised that Bangladesh, predominantly a country of origin, has made progress in protecting the rights of its migrant workers abroad, although “numerous challenges” still remain. The Committee noted that the State party is also becoming a country of destination and transit and efforts are thus needed to ensure the protection of migrant workers accordingly. It mentioned that many countries in which Bangladeshi workers are employed are not parties to the Convention. That may constitute an obstacle to migrant workers’ enjoyment of their rights under the Convention.

The Committee has also suggested conducting independent autopsies on the bodies of all migrant workers from the State party who die abroad. And give family members prompt access to the results and analyze the causes of death of Bangladeshi migrant workers and develop policies to prevent or reduce further such deaths. The committee said that the government needs to strengthen its support to families of deceased migrant workers to ensure that all those in need receive free legal aid to secure unpaid wages and compensation from employers and to hold the recruiter or recruiting agencies accountable in the destination countries.

The Committee has recommended that the State party can avail itself of technical cooperation from the international community for the implementation of these recommendations in line with the 2030 Agenda for SDGs. It has requested the State party to provide, within two years, that is, by May 1, 2019, written information on the implementation of the recommendations and to submit its second periodic report by May 1, 2022. Bangladesh needs to be more prompt and effective in its effort to be able to deliver goods to protect labour trafficking victims and provide them with effective remedies including compensation and rehabilitation including other soothing measures. It is also necessary to help the families of the deceased to get the dead bodies at home from abroad free of cost so that they are not buried in foreign land.

The fact, however, is that the workers all around the world countries are oppressed, suppressed and are victims of the denial of their genuine rights not only from the very beginning of the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century but since the dawn of human civilisation. Bangladesh is not an exception in this regard to other global countries even in the twenty-first century of unprecedented success in businesses and in science and technology. Moreover, the world has considerably advanced in all branches of human knowledge and production industry by now but workers’ lot has improved very little.

Moreover, according to a report by labour rights group International Trade Union Confederation or ITUC Bangladesh is among the global 10 worst countries for workers. As per the overall report, violence against and the repression of workers is on the rise across the world countries. The number of countries experiencing incidents of physical violence and threats against workers has risen 10 percent since 2016. Fifty-nine countries saw severe measures as attacks on union members in 2016 across the world to the violation of the rights of the global workers. The workers’ rights in Bangladesh in particular and globally in general demand urgent attention for tangible improvements befitting to the contemporary age of wisdom and industrial civilisation for equity and justice.

The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General

Education Cadre


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