Creating jobs at home
IN Bangladesh the large population instead of being seen as agent for progress is considered a liability because of the massive unemployment among the poor and also the uneducated youth. The norm, here, has been to put education and technological proficiency on the back burner although they should be seen as our main tools for change and given highest priority.
The exodus of our youth from the rural areas to the crowded cities, and emigration to foreign countries, is simply not the way to achieve Vision 2021 and to create a Digital Bangladesh. Our youth should be primarily employed for nation-building activities.
From opinions expressed in newspapers, TV talk shows, seminars and even in parliamentary debates, it appears that the earning of remittances through labour export is accepted as a central pillar of our economic policy. But using terms such as "export" and "market" in reference to our expatriate workers demeans them by equating them to trading commodities.
It is a national obsession to involve our youth to seek employment in other countries, simply because it is the easiest way out of a difficult financial situation for the government? In this age of globalisation and democracy it is the right of all workers to cross national boundaries for work, but this should be by choice and not due to the failure of their respective governments to provide their basic needs and to offer job securities.
Unskilled workers make the biggest contribution to the remittances sent to Bangladesh. This helps to improve the country's balance of payments, and their emigration helps relieve the pressure on the unemployed youth at home.
But what do these workers get in return? Everyday we see reports of their maltreatment, their exploitation, and the forced return of the unemployed and destitute workers, as a consequence of the global recession. More than 650 workers returned home in coffins in the first three months of this year. Very little has been done to ensure that the workplace environment of our expatriate workforce conforms to ILO regulations and that they do not suffer economic exploitation.
In view of the very heavy reliance on foreign remittances, and the huge number of expatriate workers, it would be understandable if the government said that a decent weaning off period is required. Instead, the government and policy experts incessantly talk about providing specialist training to our workers so that they become more employable in the competitive international labour market.
There is much talk about setting up hospitality schools so that our workers can find work in the tourist resorts in the Maldives, Malaysia and the Gulf States. We have some of the most beautiful beaches and forests in the world and unlimited opportunities for eco-tourism. Why not develop our tourist spots to international standards? This will create jobs in the building and conservation industries and our hospitality trainees will find work at home.
There is already a huge migration of our science, engineering and medical graduates causing a shortage of critical mass in these professional disciplines. Very few of the science graduates in our country find suitable or secure jobs in Bangladesh that are relevant to their training. The Western countries currently have an acute shortage of scientifically trained manpower and are very welcoming trained professionals from the developing world. When every sensible developing country is trying to stem the brain drain, why are we bent on exacerbating this?
So which are the sectors where new jobs can be created immediately and in the near future in the present economic climate? Since an overwhelming majority of our people live and work in rural areas, where up to 40% of the agricultural workers subsist at or below the poverty line, it makes sense to preferentially target the rural areas and population for development activities.
I have previously argued that the best way to counter the global recession, and achieve sustainable development, is to create jobs in infrastructure development and in agriculture-based industries. Because of the energy crises and environmental degradation green technology-based SME for the production of biogas and bio-fertiliser can be set up in rural areas all over the country using existing technologies through a partnership between local governments and the Ministry of Industry. This can create a large number of new jobs.
The government should shift the focus from manpower export to job creation in Bangladesh based on infrastructure and capacity development, and set up agriculture-based and environment-friendly SMEs in regional areas to meet our food and energy needs.