July 2012 Volume 19 Number 3
In June 2012, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh announced plans to establish a minimum wage for female domestic workers. The Philippines requires that domestic workers sent abroad earn at least $400 a month; many Asian domestic workers earn $200 to $300 a month in Gulf states.
Bangladesh. Migrants sent a record $12.9 billion in remittances in the year ending June 30, 2012. Some 375,000 Bangladeshis went abroad in the first six months of 2012.
The New York Times on April 10, 2012 profiled the prominent role of women in Bangladesh, noting that women lead the two major political parties and that almost 20 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women. Expanded access to basic education and health care, combined with micro lending and garment jobs, has enabled some women to become self-sufficient. The birth rate has dropped to about 2.3 children per woman, just above the 2.1 replacement rate.
Bangladesh is poor. A third of the 160 million residents are officially considered poor, and corruption and poor infrastructure prevent fast economic growth. About 70 percent of Bangladeshis live in rural areas.
The largest manufacturing industry is garments, which employs 3.6 million workers, 80 percent women, to produce and export $18 billion worth of clothing in 2011, second only to China. A Bangladeshi union organizer, Aminul Islam, was found dead in April 2012. His death may have been linked to the new minimum wage of 3,000 taka ($36) a month, up from the previous 1,662 taka.
There is relatively little foreign direct investment, about $1 billion a year, reflecting inadequate power and transportation as well as corruption and a shortage of skilled workers. Remittances topped $11 billion in 2011.
India. Kerala in southwestern India is a major source of migrants. It is also one of India's richest states and has one of the highest literacy rates, almost 95 percent.
Professor Irudaya Rajan estimates that there are at least 2.2 million Keralities outside India and at least a million internal migrants from poorer states such as West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar who moved to Kerala to replace them. Rajan says that the 30 plywood factories in Perumbavoor rely on migrants from other states. Most of the internal migrants earn far more than the 100 rupees a day they would have earned in their home states.
The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs created the Indian Council of Overseas Employment in July 2008 to improve the management of Indian labor migration abroad. In July 2012, the ICOE announced that it would cooperate with IOM to offer job readiness and employability skills to Indians interested in working abroad in hospitality and health care in eight northeastern states. The goal is to develop standards and an internationally recognized framework for skills upgrading, assessment, accreditation and certification.
India is believed to have more child workers than any other country, an estimated 12.6 million aged five to 14, including a fifth employed as domestic workers for wages of $40 a month or less. Many are from poor families in the lower Hindu castes or tribal groups, often from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. Some are sold by their parents to job-placement agencies.
India's economic growth is slowing. Agriculture employs half of the labor force, and productivity growth is slowing due to low crop yields that in turn are attributed to poor water management. The government discourages FDI, which limits the introduction of modern agribusiness, which would likely demand better infrastructure.
Nepal. The Ministry of Labour and Employment in July 2012 told the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA) that the country wanted "to send more semi-skilled or skilled migrant workers to foreign jobs and use their earnings in the productive sector at home." MOLE said that only one percent of Nepalese going abroad are skilled, and 29 percent are semi-skilled.
NAFEA says that MOLE's Department of Foreign Employment is corrupt, with officials demanding bribes. One recommendation is to reduce face-to-face interactions between agencies and government officials.
Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka in May 2012 signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Kuwait to improve the protections of Sri Lankan migrants in Kuwait. There are about 260,000 Sri Lankan migrants in Kuwait, mostly female domestic workers.
IOM-MPI. A short paper issued in May 2012 highlighted four challenges in Colombo Process countries that send migrant workers to Gulf countries and elsewhere: ineffective pre-departure orientation, high migration costs, inadequate support from welfare and insurance funds, and high remittance costs and difficulty accessing social security benefits earned abroad.
The paper calls for better pre-departure programs and migrant information centers, standard contracts and better regulation of recruiters, improved administration of welfare centers and their funds, and reductions in remittance costs and improved integration services.
Agunias, Dovelyn and Christine Aghazarm. 2012. Labour Migration from the Colombo Process Countries. www.migrationpolicy.org/research/migration_development.php