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What the papers say

First Doses Arrive in Bangladesh

A weekly round up of articles about employment, the labour market, skills training and workforce development. This week’s round up is drawn from The Daily Star. Here is the news for the week ending 21st January 2020.

When vaccinations begin, officials have said some 7,000 teams will deliver vaccinations across the country. Photo by Rashed Kabir on Unsplash.

This Week in the Bangladesh English News…

… changing global markets could affect where migrant workers go to work. Dhaka’s metro system is a work in progress, and now the city could also get a billion-dollar circular railway. School closures extended. And we got a glimpse of how this will all end as Bangladesh was gifted 2 million vaccine doses.

Education and Labour Market

The government is seeking new labour markets for migrant workers, said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Hasina said this is because the employment situation in Middle Eastern countries may change post pandemic. Last year, Romania was an alternative destination: the country approved 50 work visas for Bangladeshi workers, and another 260 visas are currently under review. In addition, Hasina said 240 Bangladeshis found work with an engineering company in Uzbekistan, and more will go soon. She also spoke positively of employment opportunities in Africa.

According to a measure of job uncertainty among garment workers, garment workers are faring better: in April, 88 percent of workers reported they were very or somewhat concerned about job uncertainty, but in September, 84 percent reported they were not concerned. The Centre for Policy Dialogue discussed the results of this CPD survey with various sector stakeholders. CPD Chairman Rehman Sobhan recommended implementing a micro-social insurance scheme for workers with contributions from factory owners, governments, workers and buyers. KM Abdus Salam, secretary to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, added that the government has started a social programme of unemployment benefits for garment workers. Ziaur Rahman, H&M’s regional manager for Bangladesh, stated support for increasing workers’ minimum wages, and he said H&M would respond accordingly by paying higher prices for garment items.

Educational institutions will remain closed until at least 30 January. Schools have been closed since 17 March.

Business, Investments, Trade and Growth

To obtain European Union trade benefits after graduation from a Least Developed Country in 2024, Bangladesh must comply with the standards of the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Plus policy, and that will require improvement in labour rights and human rights, said Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue. The Daily Star reported one area for improvement is freedom of association: to form a union, factory workers need 20 percent of their colleagues to join: – “[that] is still high when considering that many factories have thousands of workers.” 

Air cargo charges for exports have about doubled since March, and garment suppliers said this is increasing their financial difficulties. Airlines responded that rate hikes are the result of their own recent loss of income, increased demand and decreased supply as fewer international flights are operating. Garments regularly account for about 80 percent of all air shipments from Bangladesh.

A circular railway surrounding Dhaka, with 24 stations, will cost about $8 billion dollars and take six years to build, according to a study completed by a China-Bangladesh joint venture firm for Bangladesh Railways. The circular railway, with interchange facilities with bus services, the Sadarghat launch terminal and the forthcoming metro rails, could provide much needed relief to traffic congestion and facilitate commutes between the capital and surrounding areas. Officials have said the government is considering funding the project through public-private partnership or investment, and a report will be finalised after hearing the opinions of various agencies. Then, they may begin work on a detailed design and Development Project Proposal.

Farmers and Agriculture

Bangladesh is targeting a 3-percent reduction in the use of groundwater for irrigation by 2030. Increasing the use of surface water is important for the sustainable use of water resources, said the agriculture ministry. Ground water currently accounts for 73 percent of irrigation and the goal is a reduction to 70 percent. This aligns with the trend over the last 10 years: surface water has increased from 21 to 27 percent of all irrigation, according to data from the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation.

Other News

The investigation and prosecution of rape cases often does not happen in a timely manner and according to the law, said Manusher Jonno Foundation. For example, in analysis of 25 rape cases filed from 2012 to 2016, MJF found that in 22 cases, charge sheets were filed six months after the case was filed. This is despite the law which requires investigation be completed within 15 working days after the arrest of the accused, or if the accused is not arrested, within 90 working days of an incident report or tribunal order.

Meanwhile, advocates have asked the High Court to order the government to expand the rape laws to recognise men as victims of rape. Presently, Section 375 of the Penal Code defines rape as an act committed by a man against a woman. The petition requests the word woman be replaced with “person”.

Covid-19 Update:

  • A gift of 2 million coronavirus vaccine doses from India arrived in Bangladesh this week, and the first shipment of vaccines purchased from an Indian company are expected to arrive on 25 January.
  • When will vaccinations begin? The government has not set a specific date, although officials have said they have trained vaccinators, designated some 320 vaccination sites in Dhaka, and have planned for some 7,000 teams to carry out vaccinations across the country.