The publication of labour force survey reports on a quarterly basis since July 2015 has been a laudable initiative undertaken by the present government. It is proving itself to be a prime source of labour statistics and helping measure progress towards the achievement of "full and productive employment and decent work for all' as envisaged in the sustainable development goals. According to the latest survey report published by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) covering the period 2016-17, as many as 2.7 million people of the country have been found to be unemployed, while 6.6 million underutilised men and women have not been able to find adequate work of their choice. The most eye-catching finding, however, has been the prevalence of only 18.6 million employed females against the figure of 42.2 million for employed males. Again, although the overall unemployment rate appears to be quite reasonable at 4.2 per cent, the figures of 2.9 per cent for males and 6.7 per cent for females seem to be disproportionate. The unemployment rates for rural and urban areas at 4.0 per cent and 4.9 per cent respectively also do not appear to be harmonious.
A significant finding of the survey has been that 29.8 per cent of the youths aged 15-29 years were not in education, employment or training (NEET). More importantly, whereas the males accounted for 13.0 per cent of the NEET youths, an astounding 87.0 per cent in this category were females. It suggests an all-pervasive engagement of young women in household chores as well as the presence of social and institutional barriers that limit their participation in the labour market. NEET youths are particularly vulnerable to exclusion from the labour market and social engagements, as they neither improve their future employability through investments in skills development, nor do they gain experience through employment. The government should pay adequate attention to this segment of population, and devise targeted programmes for their uplift, which may also help improve gender parity in the labour market.
Another significant finding of the survey has been that, almost one-third or 31.9 per cent of the employed population had no formal education, and 25.8 per cent had completed up to primary level. Against these figures, only 30.8 per cent had completed secondary education. The survey also found that around 85.1 per cent of the total employed persons (aged 15 or above) were engaged in informal employment, while only 14.9 per cent were employed in the formal economy. The incidence of informal employment was found to be highest in the agriculture sector with a per centage of 95.4, followed by the industries sector with 89.9 per cent and services sector with 71.8 per cent. Among the workers with no education, 94.4 per cent were engaged in informal employment, while 5.6 per cent were involved with the formal economy. Among the youths, 89.2 per cent were employed in the informal economy, while the per centage for the adults aged 30-64 year was 83.0. It may be mentioned that the informal economy played a major role in employment cum income generation as well as in producing outputs. It tends to absorb most of the workforce expansion in countries having high growth rates of population and urbanisation.
The survey found that against 20.1 million youth participants in the labour force, around 10 per cent or 2.1 million were unemployed. The gender disparity in this category is also significant. Against 13.1 million male youth workers, the number of female youth workers was only 7.0 million. Overall, the proportion of youth workers in the labour force was 31.6 per cent. The youths also accounted for 79.6 per cent of the total unemployed, showing identical figures for males and females. Youth employment is undoubtedly a critical policy issue especially for developing countries like Bangladesh which are currently enjoying a demographic dividend owing to their large youth population.
Employment has been disaggregated by BBS into three broad sectors, viz. agriculture, industry and services. Sector-wise composition of the labour force is an important indicator in the analysis of productivity trends and flows, because it often points to the shifts from lower to higher productivity sectors and vice versa. Therefore, the decline in the share of agricultural workers from 47.3 per cent in 2010 to 40.6 per cent in 2017 augurs well for the economy. Similarly, rise in the share of industrial employment from 17.6 per cent in 2010 to 20.4 per cent in 2017, and that of services from 35.1 per cent in 2010 to 39.0 per cent in 2017 are positive signs.
The survey also revealed that the largest share of the employed population belonged to the own-account or self-employed workers at 44.3 per cent. They were followed by the employees (39.1 per cent) and contributing family workers (11.5 per cent). Interestingly, the number of females (5.3 million) in the category of contributing family workers was more than three times higher than that of males. On the other hand, an estimated 1.5 million underemployed persons (2.4 per cent of the total) were looking for additional jobs as they were working less than 40 hours in a week. Around four-fifths of them lived in the rural areas.
Sector-wise break-up for female workers showed that the largest proportion worked in services and sales (30.3 per cent), followed by skilled agricultural work (23.6 per cent), elementary occupations (14 per cent) and machine operations (13.9 per cent).
The BBS survey showed that among the 24.2 million paid employees, 56.7 per cent were paid on monthly basis, 34.5 per cent on daily basis, 7.3 per cent on weekly basis and 1.5 per cent on some other basis. Compared to other occupational groups, the managers earned the highest average monthly income in urban areas amounting to Tk 35,734, followed by the professionals at Taka 26,278.
Underutilisation of labour implies a mismatch between the supply and demand for labour, which translates into unmet need for employment in the population. The labour force survey showed that a large number of females (3.5 million) in the working age population were underutilised compared to 3.1 million for males. Targeted programmes are needed for fuller utilisation of this underutilised workforce.
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