By Naimul Karim
DHAKA, April 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Bangladesh has launched an online job portal to help reduce high fees incurred by thousands of workers seeking employment abroad and curb exploitative tactics used by unscrupulous brokers.
The government-run website was established by the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Bdjobs.com, a local website, and launched on Sunday.
The portal will connect job seekers with the country's licensed recruitment agencies directly in a bid to cut out the layers of unofficial middlemen, who activists say have dominated and often abused the system for migrant workers for decades.
"Migrants will be able to register and identify the job that will match their skills (and) the employers will get the best workers ... it (the website) is a win-win situation," said IOM's Bangladesh deputy Dimanche Sharon.
Every year, thousands of Bangladeshis look to join the 7.5 million workers already in jobs overseas, labour activists said.
At least 1 million secured jobs abroad in 2017 - the highest number ever recorded by the government - with most working in the construction and cleaning sectors in the Middle East.
The government in February said it was planning to sideline recruitment brokers who dupe or exploit workers they send abroad by compiling a list of certified labour agents.
The current informal recruitment system involves unofficial middlemen, who despite bringing recruiters and rural workers together, often give false promises about jobs and pay to entice workers then charge high fees that trap them in debt bondage.
Bangladesh is one of the most expensive nations in the world for those seeking to work overseas, with some migrant workers paying fees of up to $8,500, according to the United Nations.
Eliminating the role of middlemen will help reduce the fees, said Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies, which includes majority of the licensed recruitment agencies.
About half of the migrant workers who depend upon brokers experience some form of fraud or harassment, according to the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, a rights group.
Remittances from migrant workers are key for Bangladesh's economy, making up the second-highest source of foreign currency earnings after clothes manufacturing, government data shows.
While the country has more than 1,200 licensed recruitment agencies, they are located mostly in cities and are out-of-reach for a huge section of job seekers, said Shakirul Islam, head of Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program, a migrant rights group.
"That's why the workers are dependent upon these middlemen to reach these recruitment agencies," Islam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "The agencies, which lack the capacity, are also dependent upon these unofficial middlemen to get workers."
Migration experts and civil servants are, however, aware of the challenges that they may face in their bid to replace recruitment practices that have been running for decades.
"After the launch (of the website), if we see problems arise, we should sit together and make sure the problems are solved," said Nasrin Jahan, joint secretary of the Ministry of Overseas Employment and Welfare. (Reporting by Naimul Karim @Naimonthefield; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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