BANGLADESH: Protecting workers against poverty requires competent Institutions, with rights and dignity, at home and abroad

Bangladesh experienced at least 400,000 migrant workers deported from the Middle Eastern oil-rich States, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The forced repatriation of migrant workers has been an additional burden. It follows the already overwhelming, un-employment crisis the people of the country are enduring. Some 200,000 laborers have lost opportunities to travel to their desired overseas destinations as migrant workers. This is an immediate impact of the pandemic.

Among the domestic, formal industrial sectors, the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) sector has allegedly fired numerous factory workers. Experts are afraid that approximately 1.8 million workers are about to permanently lose their jobs in Bangladesh’s RMG sector alone. The Government of Bangladesh has shut down all the State-run Jute Mills from July 1, 2020. They cite the excuse of a loss-making sector resulting in 25,000 jobless workers while the private sector Jute Mills keep making profits. Apart from that, the continued shutdowns across the country keep rising almost every day. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, tens of thousands of people, in the informal sectors, have also been facing a steep decline in income-escalating daily.

Despite rhetorical pledges of supporting the deported migrant workers and the stimulus package to the RMG sector to help the workers, the actual benefits do not reach those in need. The workers’ outcry for transparent and inclusive incentive was in vain. The Government handed over the money to the employers instead of paying it directly into the hands of the workers. Moreover, the factory-owners’ decisions of re-opening and shutting down the factories during the pandemic (without safety measures and affordable transportation facilities), posed serious risksto the workers. They could easily become infected with COVID-19. The Government, as usual, remained aloof and unconnected, yet acted irresponsibly by not taking measures for protecting the workers. It could be said that the Government facilitates the systemic exploitation of workers by the factory-owners who deny wages and deserving benefits to their workers.

In a State-run System of Corruption, the Bangladesh Government during the COVID- 19 pandemic, has created a nightmare as far as the people’s right to health is concerned. High profile public officials have been accused of using the pandemic as a further opportunity for corruption in purchasing safety products and assigning private hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients. The absence of a planned management for in-bound travellers from abroad and out-going international passengers, resulted in negative global newspaper headlines for Bangladesh in their mismanagment of the pandemic.

The Government had an active role in spreading the pandemic across Bangladesh and beyond. There was almost no-treatment for the ordinary citizen, except for the political, bureaucratic and financial elites. This had a great impact on deepening the existing poverty in Bangladesh. In the meantime, increased poverty keeps escalating. And, the people are in dismay about their survival as the Government prefers curtailing their rights. In addition, work leaders have been facing arbitrary detention in fabricated cases, filed under draconian laws.

Bangladesh needs competent institutions. The State must guarantee universal access to justiceif it wants to achieve the United Nations ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (the SDG) according to Agenda 2030. It needs to create decent employment opportunities for the country’s huge population, suffering an ever deepening poverty. The Government’s claims on development and economic growth under their control require substantiation. There are bells ringing that a drastically changed global phenomenon about to emerge. Experts envisage that overseas working opportunities need to be replaced by creation of jobs in the domestic domain in this post-COVID-19 pandemic era. For the few, the available scope of working abroad will also require specialised skills to survive as migrant workers. For both – domestic and overseas working opportunities – the country needs capable institutions that can enable the citizens to strive and compete for the emerging realities. The institutions must affirm each citizen’s dignity as a human being and accountable organs of the State. Without universal access to justice removing poverty and achieving economic growth is impossible.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-015-2020
Countries : Bangladesh,
Issues : Democracy, Migrant workers, Right to health, Right to life,