Shirin Lira for recovering unpaid wages, facilitating justice for women migrants

Lawyer and migration expert Shirin Lira suggests developing women friendly mechanism to recover their unpaid wages and facilitate justice for the deceived women migrants of Bangladesh.

“A women friendly complaint mechanism should be developed immediately to recover the unpaid wages of the returnee migrants and also to  address the other discrimination they are facing amid the pandemic situation,” she said.

Shirin Lira, also Programme Lead for Labour Migration Project of PROKAS supported by UKAID and managed by British Council, said that wider collaboration among multi-stakeholders and strong partnership between actors both in Bangladesh and in destination countries can mitigate the problems that women migrants are facing currently due to Pandemic.

She said that preparing database of women migrants and communicating them to understand their status should be given priority.  “Ad hoc basis support is not sufficient to protect the vulnerable women migrants, it is also critical to develop strong and women friendly complaint mechanism to recover wages and address other challenges that women faces in particular.”

Shirin Lira made the observation as Migration News has asked for her comment about the impact of COVID-19 impact on women migrants of Bangladesh.

She said that development partners and international orgnisations should also take initiatives to support the returnee women migrants, women migrants in crisis as well as women who could not migrate and living in a vulnerable situation in country of origin.

“As women faces multiple forms of challenges, violence, and abuse in any crisis, and COVID-19 is not any exception, therefore, both government, non-government, UN Organisations and Private Sectors should provide additional support for the women migrants as they are disproportionately affected.”

Shirin Lira, also a member Lawyer of Bangladesh Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA),  said that COVID 19 pandemic has an immense impact on migrant women specially those were working in the household as domestic workers as well as women those were working in informal sector as temporary workers. These women are often unable to seek support from their family as well as other institutions, and living in fear and uncertainty

In addition, migrants who came to visit family just before COVID are also experiencing multi-dimensional problems and challenges due to uncertainty to resume their job, financial crisis and negative attitude towards women migrants in the community .

“Thousands of women who had completed pre-departure training, manpower procedure, medical test and some of them even booked their tickets but could not fly as all migration-related activities are postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19.”

“They are also experiencing uncertainty of jobs, family pressure, financial loss and social stigma. They are knocking the doors of government offices, NGOs, recruiting agencies, intermediaries and at high risk of trafficking, exploitations and abuses.”

The women migrants have limited access to their day to day necessities livelihood which accelerating the risk of violence and in particular putting them into more vulnerable position.

“Domestic workers those are working abroad facing restriction in mobility restrictions due to lock down and COVID fear, 24 hours presence all household members of the family members increased their work by double or tripled, many are not getting their wages due to loss of income of their employers,” said Shirin Lira.

She also mentioned that many female domestic workers were facing sexual violence, torture and often unable to contact their families due to limited access to phone. “Moreover, in COVID context they are experiencing overbearing stress as they are away from their children and family members and unable to return. Their left behind family members in Bangladesh are facing hardship specially those have small children and elderly.”

In many cases, women migrants’ left behind family members are not able to communicate with them since the lock down. Many women migrants have become undocumented due to factors like age limit, expiry of employment contract, unwillingness of the employers to extend the contract, use informal channel for employment etc.

Some of them have been deported in empty hand and many are in crisis and not able to return. According to government source, between March to September 2020, approximately twelve thousands women migrants have returned due to COVID-19.

Many returnee women migrants have been cheated by the Dalals(intermediaries)  and wanted  to file complaint against them but were not able due to the lockdown as well as COVID fear and unable to recover their money.  Despite the fact that women do not have to pay for migrating to KSA, however, many women paid money to intermediaries for migration, now they cannot migrate as well as are not able to recover the money from those informal agents.

In many cases employers and their families have left their households without informing and providing necessary food supplies and their due salaries. It is unlikely for women domestic workers to go to the embassy to seek support in this situation. Instead, the government could devise a mechanism to communicate the women migrants and make arrangement in cases where they are not getting their salaries, food, and other services.

Also for the returnee women who return in empty hand, CSOs and NGOs could support them to file complain against the employers using government mechanism. Government shall make the recruiting agencies accountable to get back the wages. Moreover, Government needs to continue dialogues and negotiation with the government of destination countries so that they also shoulder the responsibilities, the issues should also be raised in regional and global processes like ADD, GFMD.

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