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The main objective of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention-189 is to effectively protect the human rights and development of domestic workers. The convention came to effect in 2011. At first, the Philippines ratified the charter. So far, 35 state parties have ratified the convention. Although the Bangladesh government voted for the convention, it has not ratified it yet. Migrant domestic workers will be benefited most from the ratification of ILO Convention 189.

Secretary general of the parliamentarians’ caucus on migration and development and former parliament member Mahjabeen Khaled said it is unfortunate that Bangladesh has not ratified ILO Convention 189 yet. Female migrant workers often complain about torture and repression. The country of origin must ensure the protection of their rights and safety.

Ratification of the ILO Convention 189 is a timely demand. She said the parliamentarians’ caucus will lobby with different stakeholders so that Bangladesh ratifies the convention in the shortest period.

Aiming for a disciplined and systematic migration culture, the Global Compact on Migration (GCM) was signed in 2018. Bangladesh played a leading role in formulating the global accord. Bangladesh proposed the accord to eliminate irregular as well as miserable migration globally. The accord binds the signatories with 187 terms of responsibility.

Ratification of the convention makes the state party obliged to act according, said Rahnuma Khan, ILO national programme officer in Dhaka. She said every article of the charter sets some responsibilities. That is why the state party considers many issues before ratifying the document. However, signing on the GCM does not bind the signatory parties to bear with it. She reminded that Bangladesh has enacted rules regarding domestic worker issues. “Is there any progress in implementing the rules?” she questioned.

Humaira Aziz, Care Bangladesh’s women and girl’s empowerment programme director, said the ILO Convention 189 defines the rights of domestic worker clearly. Ratification of the convention will ensure accountability of the concerned authorities. Host countries of female migrant workers will be held accountable.

The ILO Convention 189 ensures the protection of workers’ rights, their bargaining power, protection from torture, repression, violence and sexual abuse, ensures fixed working hours and leave, minimum wage and more. Ratification of the convention will hold the government liable and accountable for the domestic worker issue. Besides, the government easily can put pressure on the host countries to ensure Bangladeshi migrant workers’ rights and protection.

WARBE Development Foundation chairman and founding member Syed Saiful Haque said the government’s migration rules and GCM say that the state party will ratify all the international charters protecting female workers. Ratification of ILO Convention 189 will create scope for Bangladesh to bargain with the host countries. He said the next step after the ratification of the convention should be recognition of the domestic workers and their rights within the country.

Care Bangladesh programme manager Mostafa Sorower moderated the virtual discussion. He said intensive involvement of the related stakeholders is crucial to bring the issue of ILO Convention 189 ratification to the fore.

ICMPD councillor Golam Mostafa said, “Different activities are going on under the Safe Migration of Woman Workers from Bangladesh programme. A migration resource centre has been established under the programme. It was implemented at Keraniganj and Nawabganj of Dhaka during in the November 2019-September 2021 project tenure.

Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) director Nazma Yesmin, while citing the BBS labour force survey, said there are 1.3 million (13 lakh) domestic workers in the country while around 800,000 women work as migrant workers. Many female migrant workers are sending remittances from Middle-East countries. But there is few initiatives to protect their rights. There is no alternative to ratification of the ILO Convention 189 to protect the female workers.

National Domestic Women Workers Union general secretary Mursheda Akter believed that ratification of the ILO Convention 189 will compel the Bangladesh embassies to intensify surveillance over the migrant workers. The ratification will also create legal access for migrant domestic workers.

Bangladesh Nari Sramik Kendra executive director Sumaiya Islam said sufferings of the domestic women workers are not addressed properly. She said 35 countries, with the exclusion of Bangladesh, have ratified ILO Convention 189 to ensure the rights of the domestic workers. Ratification of the convention would not fix all the problems. She recommended that Bangladesh embassies increase funds for female migrant workers and help desk officers.

Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme manager Supriya Shahnewaz and Films for Peace Foundation chairman Pervez Siddiqui also spoke at the virtual discussion.

* The original report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman.

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