In April 2018, Tanvir Rahman, a student of Dhaka University, committed suicide by jumping from the roof of a nine-storied building in the university campus. Even though he was working as a merchandiser in an RMG company, he killed himself because he was unable to acquire a government job. He had been trying for four years, and, despite being the son of a freedom fighter, for whom there is a quota, he was still unable to get a government job. Why do our youths prefer government job to private sector job? What are the attractions of a government job? Considering the unemployment rate and negative aspects of private-sector jobs, government jobs now present something of an economic lifeline for many enterprising job-seekers. Given the relative economic safety that government jobs present, it’s only natural for young people to vie for them.
Young people’s craze for government jobs is revealed through a number of studies. A survey was conducted among the Social Science and Arts faculty students of the University of Dhaka. The study found that nearly nine-tenth portion of the students chose public sector jobs where Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) took lead overwhelmingly. Aspiration to exercise power, prestige and social status, job security, personal security, opportunities of the state, personal dream, and family influence were the prime motivating factors. A record number of 389,533 candidates applied in the last circulated 40th BCS examination against 1,903 posts. BBC Bangla published a report in April, 2018, which showed that insecurity of private jobs, prestige and social status of public jobs, increased salary and benefits for the civil servants as the motivators for liking government jobs. BRAC in association with BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) and BRAC University conducted a survey titled “Youth Survey 2018” on 4,200 youths in 30 upazilas and towns across the country. According to the survey, around 57 per cent female and 42 per cent male -- prefers to get government jobs thinking of better salaries, facilities and job security. Of course, it is natural that none will manifest his or her secret lust for extra money to be cashed in from government jobs. We all know and agree that public service jobs are highly valued in society. Public jobs comply with welfare-based labour laws, which prompt the government to think about the well-being of employees. After the implementation of the 2015 pay scale, the salary increased by 100% for government job holders. In our country we need to depend on the private sector for employment because informal and private sector are still the main sources of employment. A statistics shows that the percentage of public sector employment is still 6-7% of total employment in Bangladesh which is lower than many countries in South Asia.In our country, the government job was the first preference for the meritorious youths until the 70s and late 80s. Even during the 90s and the first decade of the 21st century most of the meritorious students would not prefer public sector jobs. During that period many meritorious job seekers who even got BCS Cadre were seen to quit the job for private banks or other multinational companies due to posting in mofussil areas, regular transfer from one station to another, comparatively lower facilities, salaries and lack of charms in the former. But during the last decade, the popularity of the government job has increased. It is evident from the increasing popularity of jobs in nationalized banks among the youths. Once, many meritorious bankers preferred private banks to public banks because the former offered handsome salary. There are cases where even leaving Bangladesh Bank job, some were seen to join private bank for handsome salaries. But nowadays public banks are also offering almost near though not the same pay scale.
In contrast with the challenges of private jobs such as, insecurity, autocratic and dictated administration/ownership, more competitiveness and more stress, the government job has privileges such as, high security, more facilities, guaranteed monthly salary, lifelong pension, less workload, inevitable salary increment, more holidays, government quarters, free medical facilities, ration facilities, free allowances and greater social acceptability. The practice of giving greater social prestige to government job is traditionally present in our typical Bangali mindset. We still give more social importance on najir, peskar tahasildar, kanunugo than on Headmaster, Lecturer of private schools and colleges and officers of private banks. We see that a post-graduate from a public university prefers a colourless and odourless 3rd class post of government office to a glittering executive post in a corporate office.
These perks and facilities of public sector job are not unique to Bangladesh only. In India, government jobs have always been the primary target for youth especially coming from tier 2 or 3 cities. There is no doubt that in the last 15 years in India, private jobs (especially in IT) have been very lucrative for young graduates but considering the workload and tight deadlines, one must think twice if one can bear the work pressure & expectations from the job as one rises in hierarchy. Not everyone is capable enough to meet the targets & deadline. Hence, people are in a rat race for getting a government job. In the US, relatively few people ever leave a government job, especially at the lower levels.
No doubt, the lacklustre, lethargic working culture in a public office will definitely make a work phobic person more reluctant to work. The idlers and corrupt employees will definitely abuse these perks and privileges. You can come to work 10 minutes late, and nobody would complain. Everyone in a job title would be paid the same. So working harder, being better, being more productive will get you nowhere at all. Seniority comes with experience and not with performance. Work 5 hours a day or 15 hours a day, it doesn't matter. This is a common picture in all pubic offices irrespective of all cultures and level of economic development with a little variation. There is even a saying in the US, that once you’ve worked for the State, you are ruined for any other kind of employment. There is some truth in it. There are definitely exceptions to these people mentioned above. All public offices are not Bunglow (rest houses) for inactive, corrupt persons and all private offices are not similarly dungeons. During this pandemic, government offices like, police department, Health Department and offices under UNO and Deputy Commissioners, Local Government officers are working hard to provide service to the people. Indeed public sector offices keep the state moving on. Similarly corruption is there in the private sector as well. Who try to manipulate government tenders in connivance with the public offices? Who manipulate the supply of essential goods during any natural crisis and pandemic? The debate over whether public sector job is better than the private sector one or vice versa will never end. But, the gist is human beings will tend to prefer a calm and quiet pool of water to a turbulent river with many invisible whirlpools.
The Covid-19 pandemic that has shaken everything of our life including livelihood and employment most importantly has also put the perception of our youths regarding preference for job into a new perspective. A huge number of people have become unemployed owing to the downsizing of workforce in private sectors. Many employers have terminated their employees, many have gone for pay-cuts and many have sent a portion of employees without pay for the pandemic period. A private university in Dhaka has terminated 120 staff and officials through sending message only. Many private sector employers have been focusing on current profit ignoring the contribution these employees have made so far for their fortune-making. They are not ready to spare a small portion of their profit made in the past. They forget that they could buy homes and other fortunes in Canada, Malaysia just for the contribution of these people. Of course, there are employers who are pro-employee, empathetic and are practicing socially responsible employment and work culture. So, to generally term our youth’s preference for BCS or government jobs as their tendency for corruption is not a rational and objective opinion. Not all government jobs offer scope for earning extra money. We need to compel our private sector employers to behave with the employers in welfare-oriented way. Covid-19 pandemic is not unique to Bangladesh only. Instead of blaming the youths for their preference for government jobs, we need to think about the welfare-related issues of the private sector employees. Government should formulate policies regarding welfare of the employees that will be binding upon the private sector employers. The Finance Minister last year told that pension system will be implemented for private sector employees too. But like other promises, this one has still not seen the light of day.
The problem of corruption in public sector offices is not an isolated issue and cannot be removed through a piecemeal solution. It mirrors the rotten picture of our whole society and system. Everything is rotten in the state of Denmark. Bureaucracy and public offices will not be efficient and accountable unless and until an effective legislature is operational in a country. Legislature is the heart of the whole statecraft and good governance. To cite late Ross Perot, the Founder of Electronic Data System, the top businessmen of Texas and a veteran politician of the US, “We’ve got a patient whose heart has stopped beating and has broken fingers and toes, and the all that the politicians want to talk about is the fingers and toes. I want to go straight to the heart.” (The New York times, March 29, 1992) If we can overhaul the heart, the other organs of the body politic will also automatically heal. The stronger a legislature is, the stronger is the people’s voice. The loopholes of corruption can be traced and capped better by a functioning legislature.
The writer is a columnist.
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