COVID-19 Fallout

Employment situation in dire straits

Shakhawat Hossain and Mustafizur Rahman    | Published: 00:11, Sep 15,2020


The unemployment problem in the country has become dire following the COVID-19 outbreak as the two-month-long total shutdown and its lingering effects have caused countless job losses and shrunk the employment generation scopes.

Many job seekers are worried due to the 30-year age limit for entering government jobs as the coronavirus crisis has either slowed down or put on hold the recruitment processes at various departments. 

Planning minister MA Mannan told New Age on Sunday that the virus outbreak, first detected in the country on March 8, had severely affected the economic activities as well as the creation of jobs across the world.

‘Our country is not an isolated case,’ said the bureaucrat-turned-politician.        

The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics has no data on the employment situation for the last five months, but private sector leaders said that job losses, with no employment generation, were massive as the employment opportunity had been falling even before the coronavirus outbreak.

A joint report released in August by the International Labour Organisation and the Asian Development Bank said that the youth unemployment rate in Bangladesh would be at least 20.5 per cent this year in place of 11.9 per cent in 2019.

Youth unemployment might go up to 24.8 per cent if the virus outbreak could not be contained in six months, said the report titled ‘Tackling the COVID-19 youth employment crisis in Asia and the Pacific’.

The private sector that creates around 95 per cent of the country’s annual jobs is now down-sizing its manpower and making downward adjustments in salaries for its employees.

Bangladesh Employers’ Federation president Kamran T Rahman while talking to New Age on Saturday said that the prospect of job creation in the sector right now sounded absurd.

Once the booming hotel business in the capital is now facing a draught of foreign visitors, he said, while indicating a lull in business activities all around since March.

The government on March 26 had imposed a complete shutdown which it relaxed on May 31.

But still the economic activities led by the private sector are far from getting back to their pre-COVID-19 level though the government has announced over Tk 1 trillion crore stimulus packages for the recovery from the COVID-19 fallouts.

State minister for public administration Farhad Hossain said that BCS (Bangladesh Civil Service) recruitments were not hampered by the ongoing coronavirus crisis as the advertisement for the cadre services was usually announced during the October–November period.

He, however, said that many departments could not complete their recruitment processes in time or publicise job advertisements due the general holiday from March 26 to May 30 due to the COVID-19 situation. 

‘Hopefully, the next BCS recruitment advertisement would be announced in November,’ the junior minister said.

He said that prime minister Sheikh Hasina had approved a proposal for allowing candidates aged 30 years as of March 25, 2020 so that they could apply for government jobs in coming months even if their age limit would expire by the time of recruitment.

‘We have already informed all departments concerned about the government decision on the age limit so that it is reflected in their job advertisements,’ Farhad said, adding that recruitments at various departments would begin soon.

He said that there were about three lakh vacancies with the government agencies and those would be filled in phases.

According to World Bank and BBS estimates, every year 21 lakh people join the country’s workforce while only 13 lakh jobs are created meaning that eight lakh people join the already vast unemployed population.

The BBS put the country’s unemployment rate in the pre COVID-19 period at 4.3 per cent although economists argued that the proportion would be much higher against the failure in generating adequate employment opportunities amid the unequal distribution of benefits of the economic growth.

A 2019 study by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies said that the most worrying fact was that the rate of unemployment among the educated youth was 33.2 per cent with a higher concentration of joblessness among the graduates and post-graduates,.

Signs are plenty that the overall unemployment situation has deteriorated although the BBS has no scope to assess the situation.

BBS director general Tajul Islam on September 12 said that they did not carry out any survey to assess the job losses resulting from the COVID-19 calamity.

The BSS does not conduct survey on any temporary issue, he said, adding that the COVID-19 crisis was not permanent.

He expected that the impacts of the coronavirus crisis on the job market could be found in the upcoming labour force survey for 2020 scheduled to be carried out this year.

A large number of unemployed youths seek overseas jobs in the oil-rich Arab countries, Malaysia and Singapore every year, but these countries too have kept their doors shut to the foreign workers due to COVID-19.

Moreover, many expatriate Bangladeshis in those countries are facing job losses.

On May 6, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said that some 28,849 expatriates, mostly from the Middle East, would return home after losing jobs.

Until then, 3,695 expatriate Bangladeshis returned home from the region.

In the country, more than 3.24 lakh readymade garment workers have lost their jobs and 1,915 factories, mostly subcontracting ones, have been shut since the coronavirus outbreak, said a study of the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies.

The export-oriented readymade garment factories have threatened to retrench a large number of workers although the government has already provided them with more than Tk 8,000 crore loan at a two per cent service charge.

Employment opportunities in the country’s lucrative banking sector, it is reported, were also hit hard in the first half of this year as the sector created only 80 new jobs during the period after the banks were tightening their belt amid falling earnings.

It is apprehended that the prolonged impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the adaptation to advanced technologies by the banks might further hit the job opportunities in the sector in the coming days.

Teaching jobs in hundreds of private schools are also on the line due to the extended closure of educational institutions with online lessons provided as a possible solution in overcoming the virus pandemic.

Economists in an online discussion arranged by the South Asian Network on Economic Modelling on July 18 recommended that the government should consider an employment guarantee scheme for the next six months for people who became jobless due to the COVID-19 fallout.

SANEM projected that six million to 12.47 million employed people might have lost jobs since April.

General Economics Division member Shamsul Alam said that only 95 lakh jobs against the target of 1.29 crore were generated under the Seventh Five-Year Plan between 2016 and 2020.

No doubt the COVID-19 crisis has made the unemployment situation worse, he said. 

Both government policymakers and economists emphasised on a proper and speedy utilisation of the funds of the stimulus packages for the economic recovery.

Bangladesh Employers’ Federation president Kamran T. Rahman said that the banks should be more pro-active in disbursing loans under the stimulus packages.

Policy Research Institute executive director Ahsan H Mansur said that scopes for creation of new jobs were almost zero since businessmen were using the loan to save the current jobs.

Consumers Association of Bangladesh adviser Professor M Shamsul Alam doubted that needy entrepreneurs would get loans under the stimulus packages.

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