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 25th February 2021.
This Week in the Bangladesh English News…
…Bangladesh seeks more vaccine doses to fulfill its inoculation goal. Reporting reveals the plight of some migrant workers and efforts to improve their lot. One bank in Bangladesh tops them all. And last year at least 300 small and medium garment factories closed – how many have reopened?
Education and Labour Market
More than 1,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers died in Qatar between 2010 and 2020. This data comes from a Guardian investigative report, which also revealed that a total of 6,500 migrant workers from South Asian countries died during this last decade. One young Bangladeshi, Mohammad Shahid Miah, 29, died after he was electrocuted by electrified flood water in his worker accommodations. A researcher with Amnesty International, May Romanos, said, “There is a need for Qatar to strengthen its occupational health and safety standards.”
The government wants to ensure Bangladeshi migrant workers’ skills certifications are recognized by regional bodies and other countries. Officials said Bangladesh is working to sign mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) towards this end. One official said that while there’s been recent investment in skills training for migrant workers, recognition of that certification is also a necessary step. The absence of certifications or recognition is why Bangladeshi migrant workers are sometimes paid less than their Indian or Sri Lanken counterparts, said the Bangladesh Employers Federation.
Students of public universities protested the continued closure of their dorms and the postponement of exams which had been scheduled to take place. On some campuses, protestors broke locks on residential halls and occupied dorms. This happened at Jahangirnagar University after students, many of whom are paying rent to stay nearby campus, violently clashed with villagers and at least 35 students were injured. Students have requested the residential halls open 1 March.
The education minister announced residential halls will open 17 May and in-person classes will resume 24 May if university teachers and students receive the first dose of the vaccine. “Vaccination is a must for students if they want to return to their halls,” said Minister Dr. Dipu Moni. A health ministry official said they are waiting to receive a plan from the education ministry before proceeding with an inoculation plan for university teachers and students. Some disagree with premise of this plan: “The World Health Organization (WHO) has instructed to go for reopening if the positivity rate remains stagnant below five percent for more than two weeks. We have this situation here for around a month and we can reopen step by step,” said Mushtaq Hussain, consultant of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR).
Some 57,000 more companies have come under the tax net through a tax compliance initiative, said the National Board of Revenue; the 73 percent increase in companies with taxpayers identification numbers within the last 6 months came as a result of the NBR comparing its own records with data from the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms. NBR has also focused on ensuring that companies’ tax returns and audits are in order with the help of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Bangladesh (ICAB): in November the two revealed a software application Document Verification System (DVS) to verify returns and audits.
BRAC Bank received the highest credit ratings in Bangladesh yet again according to the Moody’s Investor Service ratings. The bank’s foreign currency credit rating was upgraded from the Baa3 level to B1, and it’s local currency deposit rating held at Ba3 for the fourth consecutive year.
Business, Investments, Trade and Growth
Representatives of Bangladesh and Japan met to discuss proposals for investment by Japanese companies in Bangladesh, including a proposal from the Japanese Mitsubishi Corporation for assuming control of the operation and maintenance of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. Before going forward, a Bangladesh official said they will consider the pros and cons of having a foreign company operate the country’s largest airport. This public-private partnership between the two countries is part of a series of meetings that began in 2017, which have resulted in the selection of five infrastructure projects that will be implemented with Japan’s support.
Small and medium garment factories are struggling, even as larger garment factories have been able to resume a large percentage of their operations. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) said that 300 SME garment factories which were members of BGMEA shut during the pandemic, and only 20 have reopened. This is in part because SMEs were less able to avail stimulus loans, and with larger factories not operating at full capacity, there’s a scarcity of subcontracting work, a necessary source of work orders for SMEs. An estimated 70 percent of garment factories in Bangladesh are SMEs.
Farmers and Agriculture
The agriculture ministry said it has distributed incentives worth $43 million to nearly 6 million farmers to help them in efforts to recover from the pandemic and last year’s floods. Farmers were given seeds, saplings and fertilizers. In addition, incentives also came in the form of $11 million for promoting the cultivation of sunflower, black gram, mustard and maize, $16 million in seeds to promote cultivation of Boro rice and some $3 million to increase onion production.
Farmers and several hundred volunteers in the Baufal subdistrict have taken to clearing an irrigation canal themselves. They say due to the silt which has been accumulating in the canal for the nearly two decades, the water flow diminished, leaving them unable to irrigate their crops. Rice production has suffered, said one farmer. Another farmer said rice seedlings were turning yellow due to lack of water, and the need for irrigation is immediate. Water levels in the canal are also reportedly affected by a sluice gate on a source canal.
A UN group wants to visit Bangladesh to investigate two enforced disappearances: the abduction of Ansar Ali in 2012 and Saidur Rahman Kazi in 2017. The working group says it has expressed interest in visiting since 2013.
On February 21, Bangladesh and the world celebrated International Mother Language Day, marking the anniversary of when the people of then East Pakistan protested the exclusion of Bangla as a national language. On that day, called Amar Ekushey in Bangla, many Bangladeshis visit Shaheed Minar monuments throughout the country; the monuments honor the Language Movement demonstrators who were killed by police.
More than 2 million people have taken their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and another 1.5 million people have registered for vaccines on www.surokkha.gov.bd. But only a third of vaccine recipients thus far have been women. The government wants to inoculate more than 135 million, but to do that, Bangladesh will need more than the 7 million doses in hand. This week the second monthly shipment of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India arrived, although the shipment was only 2 million doses, less than half of the 5 million that were expected. Officials have said another 130,000 doses are expected from the global vaccine alliance COVAX before the end of the month.