Revamping manpower export

Revamping manpower export

Overseas employment has been playing a pivotal role in the country's poverty reduction drive and in improving income distribution. It is indeed an important weapon in addressing the challenges of high circular debt, rising inflation, unemployment and other macroeconomic problems.

On the external front, the economy is dependent on manpower and readymade garment exports, which are the two main pillars for building the country's foreign exchange reserve. Remittances from overseas Bangladeshis contribute around 11 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP). The remittances provide significant support to the balance of payments and also help stimulate the economy and alleviate poverty.

The rise in the number of unemployed population underlines the need for the country to explore more markets to export its manpower as well as provide incentives for remittances to enhance its growth.

However, a sense of uncertainty has been prevailing in the manpower export sector of Bangladesh since the proliferation of the so called Arab Spring in the Middle East (ME) -- the biggest labour market for the country.

During the last couple of years, the situation has worsened due to multi-dimensional regional conflicts in the ME, particularly with the intensifying of the Saudi-led alliance's tussle with Iran and Qatar and a new phase of turmoil in Syria and Iraq. During this period, all the major manpower export destinations of the country including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, faced economic crisis that led to the shrinking of their employment growth.

With the rise of unemployment, countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait resorted to curtailing manpower import. Unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia rose to 12.8 per cent and in Oman 12 per cent. The drastic fall in oil prices further forced these oil-dependent economies to overhaul their policy where slashing foreign labour has become a priority. Some countries mull plans for imposing ban on manpower import for indefinite period.

In this scenario, the country needs to diversify its manpower export market on an urgent basis but so far, no concerted effort has been initiated either by the government or the key players in the private sector. On the other hand, any composite action plan to keep the interest of Bangladeshi workers in these countries through diplomatic maneuvering is also not visible.

Stakeholders say a comprehensive strategy is needed to revamp manpower export market which has remained stagnant for sometime. Raising the number of skilled manpower, market diversification and simplifying the migration process are essential to explore the true potential of this sector.

Despite repeated suggestions from experts, the country has failed to raise the share of skilled labour force in its manpower export. Skilled manpower is always on demand throughout the world, so both the government and the private sector should move in that direction in a planned manner. Intensive vocational training should be provided to those who are set to go abroad for employment.

Besides vocational training, they should be provided with basic knowledge about the culture, language and tradition of the country where they are going to be employed. Efforts are necessary to bring this sector under transparency and discipline so that the fraudulent agencies can be detected and brought to book.

Exploring new destinations is crucial to promote manpower export. Once Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen were prospective destinations for Bangladeshi manpower but these countries have almost stopped manpower import due to the rampaging conflicts and civil wars, and there is no sign of immediate recovery.

Remittance earning has reportedly been decreasing for the last few years. Remittance inflow stood at $12.37 billion during January-November period last year -- lower than the previous year's receipt in the corresponding period which stood at $13.61 billion-the latter still significantly lower than the year preceding.

This year, 513,862 Bangladeshis workers went to Saudi Arabia, while 83,169 and 83,016 workers went to Malaysia and Oman respectively. However, the positive side is that the number of Bangladeshi women workers is rising. Some 113,009 women moved to different countries in 2017, which was about 12.1 per cent of the total migration and 4.6 per cent higher than the previous year.

But, after being employed many of these women faced harassment by their employers. Necessary clauses should be incorporated in the employment agreement so that female workers get due protection from the authorities of the concerned countries.

Bangladesh has huge potential in manpower, in terms of number. So, a long term and effective strategy should be there to exploit this opportunity. The country has 60 per cent economically active population or workforce which can be a productive asset if properly trained through skill development.

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