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     Volume 8 Issue 64 | April 10, 2009 |

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Special Feature

The Economy Safe, for Now

Elita Karim

There have been reports of workers being treated inhumanly by their employees in their countries.

In the last few months, the plight of migrant workers abroad has caricatured a sorry picture in Bangladesh. Not only have there been reports of workers being treated inhumanly by their employees in their countries, but also several hundred Bangladeshi workers are still stuck in in foreign jails as illegal aliens, thanks to some money swindling agencies in Bangladesh promising poverty-stricken young men jobs and better lives outside Bangladesh. Today, the country, where the inflow of remittance reached a staggering 7 billion dollars in 2008, not only faces the dilemma of providing employment to an extra thousand or two, but also fears of a possible downslide in the country's economy.

Recession has little to do with migrant workers returning home.

However, according to Anu Mohammad, a Professor of Economics of Jahangirnagar University, the economy of Bangladesh will remain, more or less, unaffected. "There will of course be a slight decrease in the inflow of remittance in the country," he says. "Especially because migrant workers returning home in the last few months resided mainly in countries of the Middle East, North America and Malaysia, which have been hit badly by the global recession. However, this will not damage the present status of our economy, at least not in a way we might be led to think because of the global financial meltdown." Professor Anu explains that the countries hit by the recession are already looking for a way out, which obviously would indirectly create demands for foreign labour. "These countries are now tackling their way out of the global recession through public spending, bail outs and so on," he says. "New job markets are also being created where labour will be required, be it in the IT sector, Management or Construction work. A huge number of skilled and semi-skilled workers will always be in demand from our part of the world." Hence, there is also no fear of a decrease in the inflow of foreign remittance by a huge margin as compared to the inflow in the past years, says Professor Anu. "In any case, the government has never created any link, whereby the migrant worker, bringing in the remittance, would enjoy benefits if he or she invested in the country," he says. "All the investments done are personal, be it a shopping mall, an amusement park, well-built homes or construction of roads in the villages. Migrant workers have always made these structural developments mainly for personal gain in their hometowns or villages. Hence, there will also not be an alarming decrease in infrastructural developments." Speaking of the migrant workers returning home, Professor Anu says that recession, in the host countries, had little to do with the crisis. "Upon observing, one will see that in most cases there were no jobs allotted for these migrant workers in the foreign countries," says Professor Anu. "Either they were duped into spending lakhs and leaving the country in the hopes of a job and a better life, or many of them were trying to live illegally. It is not possible for workers to lead lives irregularly in foreign countries, especially in the Middle East, where even regular workers have trouble coping. These workers would be sent back home irrespective of recession hitting the host countries."

Attractive investment opportunities should be created in the country so that workers residing abroad are more than willing to invest their savings in their home countries.

A recent article, 'Do we really have a crisis on the remittance front?' by Ahsan Mansur, Executive Director, Policy Research Institute, broadly summarises the effect on the inflow of remittance due to the returning migrant workers. According to his report, the negative impact of the global crisis is being experienced by many countries today, primarily in two forms. One would be the lower inflow of remittances in dollar terms and second would be the returning of workers from abroad in large numbers. He says that so far Bangladesh has not experienced any significant rise in workers returning from abroad and the inflow of remittances has also remained strong. On a net basis, workers are still going abroad in sizable numbers, albeit at a pace much slower than the record migration reported during the last two years. "We have to look at two categories of migration to foreign lands in this case," he explains. "In North American countries, migrants usually go there to stay, seeking permanency. That is not the case with migrants going to the Middle East and also Malaysia, where they go there mainly to work and earn a living." Mansur explains that the nature of the job markets, for instance in Malaysia, is very seasonal. "If we look at the Palm Oil business, a company can hire labourers from abroad and then let then go and then rehire more labourers after a few months depending upon circumstances," he says. In his report he says that workers are not expected to return from industrial countries like the USA, the UK, other European countries, and the industrialised Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan). Essentially, the threat lies in the GCC and Malaysian markets. The GCC economies comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- while homogeneous in many respects, are at different stages of construction boom. Mansur further adds that the inflow of remittance will definitely be affected in Bangladesh, but not to an extent, which might cause a shocking depression.

Hence, as Manusr adds, while the country should not be complacent, there is no need for Bangladesh to panic. Efforts must be made to attract remittances and attractive investment opportunities should be created in the country so that workers residing abroad are more than willing to invest their savings in their home countries. At the end of the day, greater benefits for these workers from the government, might be one of the ways to combat global recession from taking over the country in the near future.Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2009