With the culmination of the Asia and the Pacific Decent Work Decade (ADWD) -- 2006-15, countries of the region are now taking a stock of their achievements made on their commitment they made at the 14th Asian Regional Meeting (AsRM) in 2006. The member states pledged to work towards promoting decent works for all. To do this, they had to focus on five priority areas under the heads: Competitiveness, productivity and jobs; Labour market governance; Youth employment and child labour; Migrant workers' protection and last but not least, Social protection, employability and local development.
Clearly, the issues are interrelated and collectively demand attention as a package. To spur production in factories and industries, competition proves to be the deciding factor. Creation of job and employment according to the demand is a natural consequence. But with installation of advanced and sophisticated machines, jobs at the lower levels turn out to be redundant at times, creating demand for new knowledge and skill. Better educated and trained workforce is in demand then. This sometimes refers to hiring employees from abroad when local supply line dries up.
Hence the need for governance of labour market -local, regional and international-proves highly crucial. Also there is the overriding need for protecting the interests of local employable youth, the locality of industrial units and the country. So how does Bangladesh fare on the different parameters on the assessment of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)?
One thing needs to be clarified here is that the effort made towards fulfilling the commitment of the ADWD has been largely overshadowed by the more pronounced Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the United Nations. Not only did the two initiatives coincide but also worked towards realising, more or less, the same goal. It is to raise the maximum number of people from the poverty trap and provide them with a decent living and livelihood.
That Bangladesh has achieved a decent economic growth rate over a decade is largely because of its apparel sector and infusion of remittance by its migrant workers. Contribution by agriculture has been rising steadily and other industries in the manufacturing sector have also lately been doing fine. Yet skill development has remained stunted and the country could not participate in the high end of international labour market. Similarly, diversification of the production base has remained limited so far.
All this points to the fact that the country's relatively better performance in its gross domestic product (GDP) growth may not last long. There is a need for utilising the entrepreneurship as demonstrated by its innovative young people. Talented young people are coming up with brilliant business ideas and those have to be given practical shape by making the necessary investment. Similarly, there is a need for patronising research and development in the areas of industry and technology. Young people have been doing remarkably well in the area of information and communication technology (ICT).
While the prospect looks bright for youth pursuing higher education in computer science, information and technology, a few notches below them there is a large army of youth whose general education and lack of training are leaving them without any job. The Statistical report of the Decent Work Decade 2006-15: Asia-Pacific and the Arab States present a disquieting picture for Bangladesh in this regard. As a region, South Asia's youth unemployment rate has apparently been low at 10.7 per cent.
However there is a twist. At first sight it looks contradictory because labour force participation rates (LFPRs) fell significantly over the decade. According to the report, it was a positive indicator because it indicated an increasing school enrolment, particularly at the tertiary level. But not enough decent jobs were available for them and so they opted out of the labour market. Those who had no other option had to accept jobs inferior to their qualification and the mismatch between educational qualification and employment is on the rise now.
It is exactly at this point, the ILO has identified a large pool of inactive labour force which could very well be a vital part of the engine of development. They have been technically termed NEET -not in education, employment or training. Irrespective of gender, the NEET rate in Bangladesh was as high as 40 per cent -third most deplorable in the list of 21 countries of the Asia-Pacific region. Gender-wise, the rates are 62 per cent for females and 14 per cent for males. This is what really needs serious attention. When they discover themselves in such a hopeless condition, young people are most susceptible to derailment. Dropping out from education, they lack the initiative for training them for jobs. This is points to the fact that the education system needs a through reform in order to tune it up with the demand of the labour market. Allowing such a large number of young people to pursue education up to a level where the exercise proves futile is a prescription for not only self-inflicted loss but also inviting ire from the disgruntled youth. Even lower employment unsuitable for educational qualification is a sheer waste of resources, time and energy.