BAIRA president emphasises aggressive diplomacy, more private sector engagement to reopen labour market
By Rabiul Islam
There is likelihood of reopening of overseas jobs market in the Middle East if proper diplomacy is pursued, says BAIRA President Md. Abul Bashar. He regrets that the officials of the Bangladesh missions in the labour recipients are not always helpful to the migrant workers, let alone undertaking efforts to explore jobs for more Bangladeshi workers.
Bangladesh is one of 10 largest labour sending countries in the world and it receives over $14 billion remittances annually by sending 400,000 workers a year in recent times. Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) is a platform of private recruiting agents that deals with overseas employment. ‘If our government allows us to work freely, we can send 1 million people annually,’ Abul Bashar told ICE Business Times in an interview at the office of BAIRA on 22 January. He also underscored the need for tapping potential markets in the countries where there is increasing demand for caregivers due to aging problems.
The full text of the interview is as follow:
How do you look at prospects of overseas employment for Bangladeshi youths?
I see bright prospects of overseas employment. More Bangladeshi youth would get jobs abroad in 2015. Through our representatives in various countries we have come to know that the United Arab Emirates will open the labour market for Bangladeshis next month (February). There are also possibilities of reopening of Kuwait’s labour market for the Bangladeshis. If we take into considerations all these developments, we can say that the prospects are really, really bright.
Where do the private sector and the government need to focus on, especially in terms of training, to tap the potentials of jobs outside the country?
The private sector and the government have to focus on training manpower as there is no alternative to training, given the consistent technological progress and need for updating knowledge and skills. Demand for trained and skilled manpower is increasing day by day. With this end in view, the government has planned to establish 35 new training centres. At present, the recruiting agents of BAIRA have 70 training centres. BAIRA has planned to establish a large training institute of international standard in Gazipur. Around 20,000 people could be given training every month in the institute.
What are major changes that you’ve witnessed in the culture of exporting manpower in the past three decades?
Recently Bangladesh faces problems in overseas jobs markets, especially in the Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. Those countries say that their markets have been saturated for Bangladeshi labourers. Instead of hiring workers from Bangladesh, those countries recruited workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. But unfortunately our embassies did not take proper steps to reopen those markets. It is true that a section of our migrants is engaged in some objectionable activities. The embassies should have taken drastic measures to address the problems and overcome image crisis.
Do you think the country will be able to increaseremittance earnings in the forseeable future? Why or why not?
Although the growth of remittance is slow recently, I think remittance would increase in future. Because there are possibilities of reopening of a number of markets. Due to civil war, Iraq and Libya did not recruit workers from Bangladesh. We hope we would be able to send workers to these two countries.
Where are we lagging behind in competing with other manpower exporting countries or meeting demands of receiving countries?
The officials at Bangladesh embassies abroad are not pro-migrant workers. On the contrary, the embassies of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka are quite active and prompt in helping migrants workers. The governments of these countries facilitate the private recruiting agents to make business. If our government allows us to work freely, we can send 1 million people annually. The government should identify the disease and take steps accordingly to solve the problems. The government should recall how the recruiting agents sent workers in the past and the private sector can do that now.
What is the role of economic diplomacy in sending manpower with jobs to different countries? Has the private sector any role to play to support the government?
The economic diplomacy has a significant role in overseas employment. In this regard, Bangladesh embassies have to play a very important role. Embassy officials have to negotiate with labour ministries and employers of recipient countries to make fresh recruitments or to increase recruitments from Bangladesh. The embassies have to be proactive so that we can send more workers. If the government seeks support from BAIRA, we are ready to provide our support.
Have you, recruiting agents identified any new market (destinations) and areas (job sectors) where Bangladeshi jobseekers have the brightest prospects?
We have identified Thailand as a new destination for Bangladeshi overseas jobseekers. We hope the market would be opened soon. Besides, there are opportunities in developed countries where population growth is zero or minus. Those countries such as Finland, Sweden and Switzerland need care givers for old people. BAIRA and the government are working jointly to send caregivers to those countries.
In view of global tensions and increasing demand of labour at home, how is the business prospect of BAIRA memebers? Have you prepared yourself to make new kind of business?
Yes, it is true that the situation of overseas employment is bad. As a result, many private recruiting agents have diversified their business. Many of them have left overseas employment business. BAIRA as an association does not think about other businesses. An individual recruiter can explore business opportunities elsewhere.
Do you think the overseas recruiting agents need to invest in making workers ready for global market and utilize their hard-earned money by providing a series of supports, such as skills, healthcare, language proficiency, insurance, housing scheme and some welfare measures?
The association does not work directly for the welfare of the workers. BAIRA members deposit Tk 2,500 to the government against sending a worker abroad. The expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry has a Wage Earners’ Welfare Fund. From this fund, various welfare activities including bringing dead bodies of migrants from abroad and giving financial support to the victims’ families were accomplished.
When will Bangladesh be able to capture more white-collar jobs, in place of only blue-collar jobs? How can education play an important role in this regard?
It is not right that we are not sending skilled manpower abroad. We have been able to send 60 percent skilled manpower to the UAE, 70 percent to Oman and 60 percent to Qatar. Still, we need to work for creating skilled manpower. Because a skilled worker receives higher wages than a semi-skilled or unskilled worker does. The government has planned to introduce technical education in class VI. In India, the government has established technical training centres at upazila level. Our government should follow such steps.