A Headline of back page of Prothom Alo of 4 September, 2019 reads ‘Female workers in Garments decrease’. Reports said, the chief reason of alarming diminution of females in this sector is technological changes. Here we see a future imminent great danger for Bangladesh which we purposefully want to present in this Column. The name of this danger is Jobless Growth Syndrome.
In the initial development of Garments Industry in Bangladesh that means in the 80’s and 90’s of the twentieth century more than 90 percent employees were females. The major part of those Garments Factories was ‘cutting and making’ that means sewing-based oven garments factory, where the female workers could be able to gain efficiency better than the male workers. It means that in economic consideration the female workers had greater productivity but their wages were less. If there are these two features labor can be defined as ‘cheap labor’. At that stage female workers were made to toil much more time regularly. But from the nineties after the speedy development of knitwear industry the employment of the male workers in the knitwear factories started to increase more faster than the female workers. As a result jointly oven and knitwear- out of the total workers of these two types readymade garments the ratio of the female workers began to fall.
A survey of 2013 by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics show that in that year out of 29 lakh 97 thousand workers employed in the garment sector females were 56.86 percent and males were 43.14 percent. Survey of 2018 by the Bureau of Statistics shows that out of 33 lakh 15 thousand garment workers the ratio of the males reached 53.82 percent and that of the females dropped down to 46.18 percent.
More noticeable is that the total number of female workers in the garments industry in 2018 decreased to 15 lakh 31 thousand from 17 lakh 4 thousand in 2013. BGMEA had been claiming that in the garments industry of Bangladesh during the last two decades of the twentieth century the numbers of female workers exceeded 30 lakhs although for an unknown reason the garments industry leaders showed apathy to publish it by collecting information data. Perhaps they tried to conceal things in this respect with a concern of their much propagated claim of employment for forty lakh workers.
A conception in the general public as yet remains rooted is that in the garments industry there is employment provision of 40 lakh male-female workers whereas in the survey of 2018 by Bureau of Statistics it is found to be a little more than 33 lakhs. From 2013 to 2017 the average growth of male worker in the garments sector has been 11.54 percent and that the ratio of decrease of female workers has decreased by 10.68 percent. Whereas the income from garments exports from Bangladesh has been rising continuously every year and the productivity of the workers in this sector stands increasing.
The chief reason of less participation of the female workers is said to be the rapid application of modern technologies and machineries in the garments industry during the last one decade. These machines can do several works simultaneously. So the works that were done by female workers earlier are now done by the machines. Sewing, finishing, cutting, embroidery, knitting and washing- these six types of works are basically accomplished in Bangladesh.
Of these works females work mostly in sewing and then finishing. In other works participation of the female workers is almost nil. It is said that the female workers don’t show much interest in gathering efficiency in the new works through training. Rather the male workers are highly enthusiastic to gain efficiency in the new technologies through training. And the female workers are said to continue service for seven years on an average, and then they involve in family responsibility by leaving their job. Fundamentally due to social viewpoint the owners of garments sector are reluctant to employ the female worker in the factory management; even the efficient and educated female managers have not been that much eager in the garments sector. On the other hand the male workers have turned more interested to fetch a job in the garments sector due to increase of wages in the garments industry.
The above matters that the Prothom Alo Reporter has unearthed or published from quotations of different researchers have undeniable necessity of intensive and extensive research. Because in the industrialization of this country side by side considering the readymade garments sector as a great success the employment of huge number of female workers in this sector is labeled as a ‘revolutionary achievement’. As for the first time in a male dominated society of Bangladesh females widely turned as institutional industrial workers coming outside their homes, it indicates a change in positive social attitude and hence terming it as a ‘revolution’ won’t be spoken as a verbosity.
After the change of political canvas in 1975 when through state patronization the religious politics and their position was gaining strength, the extensive employments of females in garments industry in the eighties and nineties for women empowerment against the current was rather a ‘revolution’. In ‘women empowerment’ in Muslim majority countries side by side Malaysia and Indonesia, Bangladesh has occupied a frontline position. One of the reasons of this achievement of Bangladesh is its success to attract the poor and marginal female groups of the society to the garments industry. So the diminishing employments of the females in this sector should not be thought to be inevitable. But the cardinal point of the problem in that I want to focus my key sight is that how much our preparedness to face the gradual trend of contraction in the world for need of the ratio of workers there in the field of production due to the development and extension of modern technology in agriculture, industry and service and business sectors we have? As a result the problem that gets acute in the developing country is called ‘jobless growth syndrome’. In the highly populated countries where the GDP growth rate is increasing jobless growth syndrome is noticed there. Consequently the expected volume of unemployment through the enhancement of GDP does not tally with the volume of employment. Unemployment does not decrease in the developing countries in the conceived volume to match the GDP growth rate.
Many development theorists term this problem as a ‘diminishing employment elasticity’. But the solution of the problem is very much hard that has also been exposed in the writings of these thinkers. As a principal dimension of the running 4th industrial revolution, the way in which the invention of “artificial intelligence” in the research institutions of the developed countries has been turned into a priority, it would gradually speed up the use of machine and robot-dependent technology by pushing back the labor-intensive technology. So due to the development of technological features the issue of employment in a highly populated country like Bangladesh would turn still complicated. To face this problem, by keeping pace with the present age the education and training system should be modernized rapidly.
As the poor and marginally staying education deprived women with the help of their inborn acquired efficiency in garments industry became able to increase productivity, Bangladesh has earned success in garments industry. But due to their failure to become educated in the science and technical knowledge based modern secondary, higher secondary or higher education the female workers have not been able to turn as efficient technicians. They can’t operate computer and are incapable to operate computer driven machines. So they are being dropped out from the complicated technology using works. The owners of the garments industry are continuously complaining that even the efficient about two lakh foreign skilled technicians and managers are engaged in job with highly attractive pay; no skilled workers and professionals of this kind are available in our country. It is said that they are compelled to import/collect this sort of skilled and efficient technicians and managers from India, Sri-Lanka, South Korea and China.
Not in garments industry only, the ‘jobless growth’ has been rooted inside the entire economy as a problem. Although GDP growth rate of Bangladesh in 2018-19 financial year reached upto 8.13 percent the private sector investment GDP ratio is whirling round at 23 percent. It means that mainly due to growth of consumption, government expenditure and export earning although a high growth of GDP has been achieved no mentionable contribution of the private sector in investment is increasing. About 18 lakh job seekers are being annexed in the labor market of the country every year. Out of them about 6-7 lakhs continue to be immigrants somehow or other which acts as a safety valve to camouflage this unemployment problem.
The immigration seeker young people by satisfying the thirst of lacs of taka of the human traders are losing their lives on roads and in the fields of the world or get drowned in the seas-oceans, whatever reflection the persons in power may cast on their mental soundness, the foreign fleeing diehard young people do not come only from the educated unemployed ones but many of them are from the half-unemployed ones irrespective of rural-urban areas of the country. The most urgent task of the present time is to find out the path of freedom from this ‘jobless growth syndrome’.E
* Economist and former Prof. of Economics,
** Translated into English by ‘The Economy’ Analyst.