Sunday, August 14, 2011

JITCO agreement with Japan: Wasting a pro-worker programme

Daily Sun
August 14, 2011
M. Serajul Islam

Japan stands clearly above the rest as our development partner. It has been the single largest contributor to our development efforts in a country wise break down of our development partners since our independence. Its aid, most of which is eventually made into grants, has gone to the sectors where it is needed most, namely economic infrastructure building and human resources development.

Unfortunately, Japan’s contribution to Bangladesh is seldom spoken in public. The Japanese are too sophisticated and cultured to talk about themselves. We are also not good as a nation in appreciating friends. Hence, most people in the country think that our western development partners do more for us than Japan.

It is not just lack of appreciation that should now worry those who are aware of what Japan means to Bangladesh. It is what we are doing with an excellent Japanese programme of economic cooperation that has now become an issue. It has been reported in the press recently that recruiting agencies have cheated many in the name of the JITCO programme run by Japan International Technical Cooperation Organization (JITCO), a government funded organization with shared jurisdiction of 5 ministries including Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice.

We signed the JITCO agreement in 2005 during my tenure in Japan as Ambassador. There were a few thousand illegal immigrants in Japan when I arrived there in 2002. Almost all of them were working in small and medium scale enterprises much to the satisfaction of their Japanese employers. Unfortunately, the Japanese Immigration was then nabbing the illegal immigrants and sending them home. Bangladeshi illegal immigrants were easy to catch because of ethnicity.

It was during this period that I met a few SME owners who were employing the illegal immigrants. They told me of their sadness of losing the Bangladeshi workers who they thought were very hard working and honest to whom many of them left their enterprises to run. They suggested to me that our Government should sign the JITCO agreement that would allow our workers entry to Japan legally for a limited period under the JITCO programme.

The JITCO programme brings workers from the developing countries in 60 small and medium enterprises for one year as a trainee and 2 years as an apprentice. After 3 years, the workers are sent back home to use the experiences gained in Japanese SMEs in their own countries. This transfer of technology through imparting training to workers of the developing countries forms the philosophical basis of the JITCO programme. There are many other attractive elements in the JITCO programme that makes it very attractive for any country that has entered the JITCO programme.

A worker under a JITCO programme is not required to spend any money for entering the programme. Japanese SMEs who work in the JITCO programme and are called receiving organizations (RO) work with organizations in country sending the workers called the sending organizations (SO). Between the two, workers are identified. Once this is done, the entire responsibility of receiving the workers in Japan is that of the receiving organization. The RO pays for any training the workers need in the sending country. It also pays for the tickets of the workers. Once in Japan, the workers’ accommodation, health insurance and related expenses are all looked after by the RO, of course with the relevant amounted deducted from the pay.

The RO even ensures that an amount of money is paid to their families for their welfare as long as the trainee/workers stay in Japan. The financial benefit for workers on their return home after 3 years under the JITCO programme was somewhere between Taka 15 to Taka 20 lakhs in savings calculated in 2005 when Bangladesh signed the agreement. When the advantage of receiving world class training for free is considered with these advantages, the JITCO programme’s value can be seen as truly in a class of its own.

The JITCO program is clearly not a manpower issue because Japan, except for limited selective categories, prohibits by law any manpower import to the country. In fact when I was negotiating the JITCO agreement, I was clearly told by the Japanese side that two things must be ensured without fail. First, no manpower/recruiting agencies would come anywhere near the programme. Second, the workers under the JITCO programme would not be required to pay any money to come to Japan.

Unless, the Japanese Government has amended JITCO regulations, our Government seems to have failed in both. It has given permission to a good number of recruiting agencies that are manpower agencies in a different name, thus violating a fundamental principle of the JITCO programme. At the same time, these recruiting agencies have started to charge and fleece prospective workers as they are in the habbit of doing.

The JITCO programme since 2005 has been mishandled by last BNP Government as well as the CG. It does not look like the present one is doing the right thing either. The programme has such potentials that it is indeed sad that it is being wasted because either those handling it are not aware of the nature of the programme or the nexus of corruption so endemic in sending our workers abroad is getting the upper hand in the JITCO programme.

To bring JITCO back to the rails, the concerned Government Ministry must do a few things immediately. First, establish that JITCO programme is not manpower business but a training programme. Second, disseminate information through the media that for going to Japan under the JITCO programme, no one has to pay anyone any money at all. Third, in place of the recruiting agencies, encourage and appoint training institutes to come to the JITCO programme as sending organizations. They may not make the amount of money manpower agencies make by sending our workers abroad but there is a substantial financial incentive in the programme for them from the receiving organizations.

The underlying importance of JITCO programme apart from the free world class training a huge amount of money as savings to boot it offers our workers is a futuristic one. Japan’s population is declining. Increasingly, it will face shortage of manpower at some stages in the future, shortages in sectors where Japanese are not interested to work, for example the SMEs. When that door opens for manpower export to Japan, countries that have presence of workers in programmes such as JITCO would naturally get preference. This is an additional reason why we need to make the JITCO programme successful.

Unfortunately, in 6 years, we have but sent only a handful of workers to Japan under the JITCO programme against many thousands we could have sent. We are wasting a goose that lays golden eggs; in fact we are killing the goose. It is sad because this is a programme that gives the migrant workers so many benefits in a system where they are otherwise victimized.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt.

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