Bangladesh is a major exporter of labour with more than 900,000 Bangladeshis leaving the country each year to work abroad. Bangladesh as well as Cambodia, Lao-PDR, Nepal, Myanmar and Vietnam have all emerged as labour-exporting countries in Asia, joining traditional exporters of labour such as the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. While official records indicate that approximately 900,000 Bangladeshis left the country to work abroad in 2007, actual numbers of migrants may be much higher given that a substantial number migrate through unofficial channels. Unofficial migrants are those who go to destination countries in search of work without authorization from the countries that they are migrating to.
Presently most mass labour migrants from Bangladesh are destined for low skill level jobs in countries with labour laws that leave them with little protection. In particular, sectors employing migrant labourers often have little or no regulation of safety, health and working conditions. Meanwhile, many low-skilled migrant labourers are also paid less than the minimum wage prescribed by law in these destination countries. Recent reports indicate that there has been a decline in wages and deterioration in work conditions due to surplus labour in the overseas migrant labour market.
With this background, the Health Systems and Infectious Diseases Division of ICDDR,B, in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), used a tool developed by WHO to investigate workplace injury among migrants from Mirsarai, a rural, migration-prone area of Bangladesh. The Arab Middle East is the destination for most Bangladeshi labourers migrating from Mirsarai and the study investigated workplace injuries that led to temporary work limitations or permanent work disability.
The study yielded 3 major findings. First, a high proportion of migrant labourers reported having experienced workplace injury: 60 percent of the migrants experienced workplace injury while abroad. Among these, 54 percent sought treatment for their injury. Second, employers rarely covered the cost of treatment: only 10 percent of the migrants received payment from their employer to cover the cost of treatment. Thirty five percent of the migrants required a hospital stay due to injury on the job, indicating that the costs of treatment were quite high for some. Third, 34 percent of the migrants reported having a physical disability as a result of injury on the job while abroad, which diminished their usual level of activity.
Bangladesh economy is largely dependent on remittances that are sent by migrant labourers.During 2007, migrant labourers sent 7.93 billion dollars back to Bangladesh. Paradoxically, HSID’s study conducted in Mirsarai showed the average monthly income of the labourers was around US$ 300.
It is unfortunate that despite the significant contributions of Bangladeshi migrant labourers to the economy of Bangladesh, migrant labourers receive low pay and experience high rates of workplace injury. This new study by ICDDR,B demonstrates the need for policymakers to take significant steps to ensure the safety of migrant workers and help prevent workplace injuries among the Bangladeshi migrant labour force in destination countries.