THE COVID-19 outbreak and the consequent slowdown in economic activities have created an alarming unemployment situation amidst inadequate government response. A report that the International Labour Organisation and the Asian Development Bank released in August says that youth unemployment in Bangladesh could increase to 20.5 per cent this year from 11.9 per cent in 2019 as jobs have not been created in six months and hundreds of thousands of people have lost job. Youth unemployment is projected to reach 25 per cent if the COVID-19 outbreak is not contained in six months. A Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies survey, published in June, says that about 13 per cent of people have lost job and more than 60 per cent of people, mostly in private and informal sectors, have experienced a significant reduction in income. While there is no specific data on unemployment and job loss, the South Asian Network on Economic Modelling says that about 6–12 million people have lost job since COVID-19 broke out in Bangladesh.
About 4–5 lakh workers only in the apparel sector have lost job since the COVID-19 outbreak. Many factories have closed and many others have retrenched a large number of workers, as a study of the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies says. Job loss remains very high in other labour-intensive industries too, even though the government has announced more than Tk 1 trillion crore stimulus packages for various industries and asked them not to downsize the work force. What is worrying is that the private sector, which creates about 95 per cent of annual jobs, has not been able to create jobs this year, suggesting a dire unemployment situation ahead. Government agencies are, moreover, reported not to be completing their recruitment processes, leaving the young people, especially the educated, disappointed. A large number of unemployed young people who seek overseas jobs are also faced with a difficult time as most destination countries have kept their doors shut to foreign workers and have sent back migrant workers empty-handed.
The government must, under the circumstances, expedite the disbursement of funds of the stimulus packages and must not allow any pro-rich bias in the disbursement, as is reported to have happened in many cases, to facilitate an early recovery of the private sector and to help the struggling thousands. The government agencies must also resume their recruitment process as early as possible. Unless the government attends to the issue now, it may go out of reach when the COVID-19 crisis would be over.
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