Dhaka (The Daily Star/ANN) - Before leaving for the United Arab Emirates in early 2008, Bangladeshi plumber Shakil Hossain signed a job contract that offered him a monthly wage of 1,200 dirham (US$326.70). It was quite lucrative for him although he had to spend $3,052.86 for the job in Dubai that he believed would change his fate.
But his dream was shattered as soon as he joined the job. The construction company he joined asked him to sign a new one that cut his wage to 550 dirham ($149.74) a month.
"The company asked me to return home if I did not sign a new contract. It was an unexpected shock for me," said Shakil, 30, of Nawabganj area in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. Having no alternative, he signed it. He left the job after a year since he could save little out of his wage.
Shakil is one of the many Bangladeshi and other foreign workers in the UAE whose original job contracts are replaced by new ones to deprive them of due wages and facilities. Around 1 million Bangladeshis work in that country.
A number of workers, who returned home from the UAE, told The Daily Star that about 70 per cent of Bangladeshi workers in the UAE are victims of this ill practice.
Contacted over the phone, Bangladesh Consul General in Dubai Abu Zafar said there are "many cases" of substitution of job contracts, but he could not give any figure.
Meanwhile, in August 2010, the then labour counsellor at Bangladesh embassy in Abu Dhabi Mohammad Moniruzzaman told local daily The National that 60 to 70 out of every 100 job contracts with Bangladeshis were substituted. The same is the case with less skilled workers of other countries.
Returnee workers said many of the victims of contract substitution quit their legal jobs, go for other jobs on daily basis and work for longer periods every day to earn a little more. But they are often arrested, kept in jail and deported to their countries.
And Shakil is no exception to this. Giving up his original job, he took other jobs and used to work even for 15 hours a day. But he could never earn enough to improve his lot.
While travelling by a bus in October last year, five Bangladeshis including Shakil were arrested for having no work permits. They were jailed for two months and then deported in December.
Abul Bashar, another returnee from Dubai, said the workers whose job contracts are substituted can somehow survive working elsewhere but they cannot earn much to change their fate.
Asked, Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Secretary Dr Zafar Ahmed Khan said Bangladesh has already proposed to the UAE authorities computerised verification of original job contracts for preserving those. The Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) will also have online access to it, he added.
"Once the system is in place, any substituted job contract can be challenged when one complains about it," Zafar said.
BMET Director Nurul Islam said such verification system could improve things.
He mentioned that manpower recruiting agencies usually hand over to workers the documents of their job contracts a day or two before they leave for their destinations. Sometimes, workers cannot even read those or understand their meaning.
Nurul Islam said the recruiting agencies must ensure that the workers are fully informed of the terms and conditions of their jobs including wages and other facilities well ahead of their leaving for abroad. And, the workers must have three copies of job contract papers so that they can leave one copy back home and keep two copes with them abroad.
He went on, "If they are forced to sign a new contract and submit documents of their original ones, they should have copies of those with them so that they can prove in court substitution of their contracts."