Hopes abound that the private sector in Bangladesh and overseas job market will create considerable employment opportunities in Bangladesh. But as growth in the country's private sector investment is not getting momentum for a long time and overseas job market has shrunk, the country is suffering from a chronic unemployment situation.
It is difficult for Bangladesh to sustain 7.0 per cent plus growth rate when private investment declines as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) and tax collection remains not up to the mark. According to the latest Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) survey, unemployed male and female are equal in number - 1.3 million.
The number of female unemployed population was higher three years ago. An estimated 62.1 million people aged 15 or above are now in the labour force, up from 60.7 million in 2013. Around 1.8 million of those having jobs of less than 40 hours a week are looking for new or additional jobs.
The latest survey also found 86.2 per cent of the total employed population aged 15 or above in informal employment. Between 2016 and 2013, non-agriculture sectors like industry, trade and other services absorbed a higher number of people than the farming sector. As a result, the proportion of jobs in the agriculture sector declined to 42.7 per cent in 2016 from 45.1 per cent in 2013.
The BBS survey shows that unemployment rate was the highest among people having tertiary education. It is, however, higher among women than men. Interestingly, the unemployment rate among people without any schooling was the lowest, as only 2.2 per cent of them were unemployed during the survey period.
The rate of job creation, and labour productivity have also declined although various factors such as inflation, bank interest rate on loans, balance of payments position and exchange rates remain favourable for economic growth.
There are 2.6 million unemployed people in the country. The unemployment rate has slightly changed from 4.3 per cent in 2013 to 4.2 per cent last year though the government created a number of job opportunities over the period, the survey says.
What is surprising is that the number of jobs rose impressively during 2002-2013 by 1.36 million per year. But the number fell to only 0.3 million a year since 2013, according to the survey. In fact, Bangladesh failed to create adequate number of jobs despite higher economic growth in recent years. Such growth, particularly since 2013, could not result in enough job creation.
According to the survey, rural areas have 1.82 million unemployed people, more than double the number of those 0.77 million in urban areas. Mention may be made that the urban-rural population ratio is 30:70 in the country.
While conducting the survey, the BBS followed the international standard definition of unemployment on various aspects of people's economic activity. As defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), people who are out of work, want a job, have actively sought work in the previous four weeks and are available to start work within the next fortnight come under the purview of the unemployed category.
However, analysts say the unemployed population should be higher than what was found in the survey. The definition should be set considering the local context. In Bangladesh, underemployment means those people who work less than 40 hours a week or earn less than the income required to meet their basic needs. Those who work at a lower tier compared to their skills and expertise should also be considered unemployed, they added.
Impressive economic performance since the early 2000s was accompanied by strong growth in labour force up to 2013. But this trend is currently showing signs of stagnation. In the light of impressive GDP growth, sluggish labour market growth and an emerging demographic dividend provide causes of concern.
Investment growth in the manufacturing sector remains low particularly because of a lack of adequate infrastructure, including the supply of quality electricity and gas. New investment in the apparel sector, which accounts for 48.3 per cent of the manufacturing sector, has also been slow.
The quality of education in the country is also not considered up to the mark. There is the need for improving the quality of higher education with special focus on skill development. The government should pay serious attention to raising private investment and jobs through budgetary measures in the coming fiscal year.
Apart from local job market, the country's labour force in overseas job market is also shrinking in recent times. The situation poses serious concern about manpower export that has played a pivotal role in gearing up country's economy and foreign exchange reserve.
According to overseas employment data compiled by the state-run Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), the US$17 billion remittance was generated in 11 months up to May this year. Bangladesh's present highest ever foreign currency reserve has been the outcome of mainly the higher and higher remittances sent by overseas Bangladeshi workers.
But it is doubtful whether this uptrend in remittance can be sustained even in the short term. This is largely because there has been a decline in Bangladesh's manpower export.
A parliamentary standing committee on expatriate welfare and overseas employment ministry recommended that the government should take immediate measures to tackle the decline in manpower export. Members of the standing body said the manpower export had dropped significantly in the recent months.
The standing committee recommendations include looking for new potential labour market and reorganising foreign missions of the country. It suggests that the government should reorganise Bangladeshi foreign missions abroad in order to be able to facilitate manpower export with low recruitment charges.
For all practical purposes, it will be difficult to persuade members of manpower recruiting agents to take 'nominal' charges from the job seekers. In most cases, the agents do not give payment receipts. If they are forced to do so, they will most likely give receipts to the workers in line with government-approved fees.
There is no denying that an effective manpower policy is crucial for exploring new job markets abroad. There are many unexplored areas where the opportunities for opening new fronts are still possible. The government needs to be serious about tapping this potential.