Saudi Arabia opens its doors to Bangladeshi employees
Author: Kirsty Tuxford | Date: 24 Aug 2016
Lifting of ban means Bangladeshis can work in the kingdom for the first time in seven years
The Ministry of Labour and Social Development in Saudi Arabia has removed a ban on the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers in the country.
The ruling means that Bangladeshis can be employed in Saudi Arabia in all sectors, from farming, construction and medicine, to blue- and white-collar positions, for the first time in seven years.
The former ban was not applicable to female domestic workers – there are currently 60,000 Bangladeshi women working in domestic roles in Saudi Arabia and around 6,000 per month are still arriving.
Before the ban, 150,000 Bangladeshis arrived in KSA each year. There are currently 1.3 million Bangladeshis employed in Saudi Arabia, although some unofficial reports estimate the real number could be as high as 2.5 million – mostly workers who started jobs there before the ban. Bangladeshis working in Saudi remit approximately US$3.7 billion a year back home.
Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali and former Foreign Minister Dipu Moni visited Saudi Arabia several times to discuss lifting the ban. A meeting between the Saudi King Salman and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in June helped push the case forward.
“It is a big achievement for Bangladesh, as we have been pursuing this for a long time,” said foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque. The two countries are now planning to discuss the potential number of workers who will enter Saudi, where they will be employed, the minimum wage and other issues.
Earlier this year, the minister for labour, Mufrej Al Haqabani, and the Bangladeshi minister for expatriates' welfare and overseas employment, Nurul Islam, decided to not only increase the number of Bangladeshi housemaids, but also to provide training to workers heading to Saudi and to allow the recruitment of male domestic workers. Saudi investors have now entered into an agreement with the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) for four training centres in the Bangladeshi cities of Dhaka, Chittagong, Manikganj and Mymensingh.
The recent case of Saudi construction firm Saudi Oger laying off thousands of Indian workers after months of not paying their wages has raised concerns for the wellbeing of migrant workers in low-paid jobs. A study by Md Mizanur Rahman, a professor from the National University of Singapore, looked in-depth at the risk to Bangladeshis migrating to Saudi Arabia for work.
“The research reports that migrants often undertake international migration at great costs of their own, incurring large debts, risking personal savings and family assets, and accentuating income risks and capital constraints, while the remittances are meagre in the repair of such family economy,” said Rahman, in his paper on Bangladeshi labour migration to Saudi. “A migrant often commences migration for work by incurring large debts to pay many migration-related fees.”
According to BMET, the formal recruitment of Bangladeshi labour to Saudi Arabia started in 1976 with only 217 migrants. Between 1976 and 2010, nearly 2.58 million joined the labour market in Saudi Arabia. Bangladeshi migrants in Saudi Arabia remitted nearly US$21.42 billion to their families between 2000 and 2011.
When the ban was introduced, the official reason given was to balance out the flow of migrants from Bangladesh against flows from other countries such as Pakistan and India. However, some reports state political and religious reasons behind the decision – there have been cases of both countries handing out the death penalty as punishment on the other’s citizens.
Bangladesh’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Golam Moshi, is reported as saying that Saudi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was “very sincere” about re-opening the Bangladeshi labour market in the Kingdom.