The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has exposed serious vulnerabilities in our society. It has particularly exposed extreme vulnerabilities of the people belonging to the working class. It has already impacted their health, both physical and mental, and wellbeing that resulted from loss of employments. As for example, the readymade garment (RMG) workers have been more impacted by the virus. Besides health issues, they face financial hardship and are unable to pay for essentials like food. The pandemic has also multiplied the woes of women workers, most of whom are RMG workers. It has further added care work responsibilities to them in this critical period. Women’s labour participation numbers were declining even before the pandemic with the increased engagement of women with domestic duties not being classified as ‘work.’ Most of them engaged in domestic duties or unpaid family businesses are bearing the brunt of the increased care and work burden.
The effects of the pandemic on health, employment, incomes and gender equality are all the more catastrophic causing entrenched inequality and insecurity for working people. Besides controlling the pandemic, it is of vital importance to ensure first of all their health safety. Because, without reducing the health risks, economic objectives cannot be fulfilled since workers are behind the wheels of the economy.Productive employment and decent work are key elements to achieving poverty reduction. Decent work means opportunities for everyone to get work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security at workplaces and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration. It is also important that all women and men are given equal opportunities at workplace. But, there remains a widespread deficit of decent work.
A fair chance of a decent job is what women and men are demanding. The policymakers seeking to combat poverty should answer the people’s test: how will the policy advice improve the quantity and quality of jobs? This is one of the best steps that the government can take to eradicate poverty once and for all.
However, in our country, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) along with the government, workers’ organisations and employers’ associations are working directly on the decent work agenda, informed sources at the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) said.
The key role of decent work for all in achieving sustainable development is highlighted by the Sustainable Development Goal-8 (SDG-8). Leaving no one behind as the main slogan, it aims to ‘promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.’ It has outlined how all stakeholders will work together to ensure a progressive and just future of work-for-all.
Our vision to accelerate economic growth and to emerge as a ‘developed’ country by 2041 requires that the economy is able to bring as many people, including youth and women, into productive and decent work.
Providing full and productive employment for the labour force is the most important priority. Prosperity and advancement depend on how well people are employed and in what conditions. Bringing women into the labour market is also essential to help reduce inequality. However, the government is committed to implementing the SDG 8.Against this backdrop, the government has released the Eighth Five Year Plan (2021-2025), the country’s latest socio-economic blueprint. The flagship document contains the philosophy of realising ‘Sonar Bangla’ as dreamt by the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Focusing on a pro-poor growth strategy, the labour-intensive Plan has devised suitable development strategies for promoting prosperity, fostering inclusiveness, reducing poverty and inequality. Its success depends on job creation and decent work.
The government has already embedded the SDGs into the 8th FYP by adopting the ‘whole of society’ approach for implementing them. This requires consultations seeking to raise more awareness, interest and commitment to create deeper engagement of all stakeholders towards attaining the SDGs. So, regular consultations should be held between the government and representatives of all stakeholders, opined the BILS Director Kohinoor Mahmud. But, the government rarely consults with trade unions, not even with the BILS, she added.
The Plan mainly centres on six core themes, which include: (i) rapid recovery from Covid-19, (ii) GDP growth acceleration, employment generation, and rapid poverty reduction with a broad-based strategy of inclusiveness, (iii) a sustainable development pathway resilient to disaster and climate change, (iv) sustainable use of natural resources and successful management of the inevitable urbanisation transition, (v) development and improvement of critical institutions, and (vi) attaining SDG targets and coping up the impact of Least Developed Country (LDC) graduation.
The main objective of the 8th FYP is to start the implementation of the Perspective Plan (PP) Bangladesh 2021-2041 in a way that it brings the country closer to the goals of achieving the Upper Middle Income Country (UMIC) status by 2031 and attaining the SDG targets by managing the challenges of the LDC graduation, which will also help to eliminate extreme poverty by 2031. The government has also prepared the ‘Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100’ to offset the negative externalities of climate change and natural calamities. The objectives of the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 will also be realised through the 8th FYP.
Attaining high economic growth is at the forefront of Target 8 and the country is moving towards a positive direction with the annual growth rate. However, there needs to be a greater understanding and presentation of how this growth is being distributed.
During the Plan period, the authorities expect to achieve an 8.0 per cent average growth rate, reduce poverty rate from 20.50 per cent to 15.60 per cent, and further strengthen the existing social security system while eliminating poverty and narrowing inequality. While the growth rates are promising, it is also equally important to understand if this growth is reaching various segments of the economy and society. The rate of economic growth has not been accompanied by an increased pace of job creation and poverty reduction.
Meanwhile, the majority of the employed population are engaged in the informal sector. Its regulation is a major concern. It is imperative to gradually reduce informality through the right policy.
As per the Poverty Reduction Strategy, three priorities need to be delivered:
• promoting, adopting and implementing international labour standards for the protection of workers from unacceptable forms of work;
• creating sustainable, inclusive and decent employment for women and youth, especially those who are vulnerable to socio-economic and environmental exclusion and are working in the informal economy; and
• fostering tripartite mechanisms to protect the rights of workers by promoting labour administration, Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) and social protection.
If the priorities are taken into account then the 8th FYP will be able to ensure decent jobs for workers. As priorities, themes and strategies are well-recognised, workers’ issues should be incorporated through participation of their representatives during preparation of any policy document, suggested Kohinoor Mahmud. It is an expectation of the people belonging to the working class that in the coming days such Plans would be prepared through participation of their representatives.
The writer is a columnist. E-mail: [email protected]