What the papers say

People Are Moving. Is the Economy Following?

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 10th March 2021.

Photo by Niloy Biswas on Unsplash.

This Week in the Bangladesh English News…

…Bangladeshis are more mobile now than before the pandemic, but meanwhile, borrowers and banks haven’t fully recovered. There’s insight into child marriages, and more about the plight of working women. And days before a major India-Bangladesh meetup, it seems everyone’s talking about what’s on the agenda.

Education and Labour Market

There are fewer female workers in the garment industry, by one measure: A survey by the Asian Centre for Development found females were 65 percent of the workforce in 2015 but they dropped to 59 percent of the workforce in 2020. Males joined the ranks at a rate of about 4 percent per year, while females decreased at a rate of -0.7 percent per year. The survey also found that workers are young and want to leave relatively young: the average age of all workers was 25.9 years – male workers reported they expected to work an average of 11 years before retiring or leaving the industry, and female workers reported they would work 8 years.

Employed urban women are working the most hours according to data from the Labour Force Survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics in 2016-2017. A fresh analysis, combining employment and family service working hours reveals the plight of working urban women:

  • Average male: 60 hours
  • Average female: 59 hours
  • Urban male: 63 hours
  • Urban female: 66 hours

Rushidan Islam Rahman, executive chairperson of the Centre for Development and Employment Research noted these findings affirm that long working hours are a reality for men and women in Bangladesh, but recognition of the value women’s unpaid family service is a necessary step towards women’s empowerment.

Nearly 14,000 child marriages happened between March in November last year according to a study by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) done with support from Plan International Bangladesh. But MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam said, “We fear that many more child marriages have taken place across the country.” MJF found that in about 78 percent of the child marriages, the people involved said they knew that child marriage is illegal, and 96 percent said they do not support child marriage. So why were people motivated to marry off their daughters? The two biggest factors were future uncertainty and loss of employment and earning opportunities.

Financial Services

Net profit in the banking industry was down 44 percent in 2020, mostly due to a net loss of nearly $600 million by the state-run Janata Bank. This is according to profitability statements prepared by the central bank, which were made with unaudited data provided by lenders. The manager of Janata Bank said the bank will apply for regulatory forbearance: “If we are allowed to do so, the net loss will not be there.” Last year, the central bank offered a moratorium on bank loan repayments to all borrowers from mid-March through December.

Excess liquidity in the banking industry as a whole fell for the first time in eight months. Liquidity had been trending up since March of 2020 due to funds provided by the stimulus packages and lower credit demand. From December to January, liquidity fell about $74 million. In January liquidity totaled some $24 billion, 97 percent more than a year ago, when it was around $12 billion,

Business, Investments, Trade and Growth

Ahead of the India prime minister’s visit 26-27 March, there was a flurry of India-Bangladesh activity this week: India’s external affairs minister met with Bangladesh’s foreign minister to discuss several MoUs on connectivity, trade, water sharing, border killings and energy. Elsewhere this week, India’s foreign secretary said India is considering a proposal for a cross-border LNG pipeline.

Meanwhile, in a meeting of the commerce secretaries, Bangladesh asked India to consider lifting the duty on Bangladesh jute goods. India has an interest in keeping the duty to prevent an influx of cheaper Bangladesh-subsidized jute goods.

The prime ministers presided over a virtual ceremony to inaugurate the cross-border “Friendship Bridge” over the Feni river. The region, north of Chittagong, is being developed as a trade corridor between Northeast India and Bangladesh. It connects the Indian state of Tripura with Chattogram port, which is just 80 kilometers from the bridge. Just last year, after signing a MoU, India started using Chattogram port to transport goods to and from its northeastern states.

The World Bank joined the conversation about India-Bangladesh relations with a report titled “Connecting to Thrive: Challenges and Opportunities of Transport Integration in Eastern South Asia”. The report asserts that a reduction on tariffs and para-tariffs and increased cooperation in cross-border transportation has the potential to increase Bangladesh’s national income by as much as 17 percent and India’s by 8 percent.

People in Bangladesh are on the move, surpassing pre-pandemic levels of mobility, according to a country-based report released by Google. Using data collected from Google Maps, the tech giant calculated a combined measurement of visits and length of stays in six categories: retail and recreation, supermarket and pharmacy, parks, public transport, workplace and residential. Visits and stays at supermarkets and pharmacies, for example, were up 44 percent compared to January 2020. Bangladesh was the only country to surpass pre-pandemic mobility levels in all six categories.

Agriculture and Growth

Bangladesh is among 45 countries, 9 from Asia, in need of external food assistance according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. In the most recent version of the quarterly published Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, the FAO said there’s severe localised food insecurity in Bangladesh due to “economic constraints, monsoon floods and high prices of the main staple food”. The report also mentioned that the food security situation of the approximately 860,000 Rohingya refugees has “severely deteriorated in 2020 compared with with the pre-COVID-19 pandemic”.

Every week an exclusive group of farmers come to the capital to sell produce at the farmers’ market Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC). The Friday-Saturday market, managed by the Department of Agricultural Marketing (DAM), features produce from farmers using integrated pest management (IPM) techniques, including bio-pesticides, to minimise the use of pesticides. Several farmers said they appreciate the market because they can sell directly to health-conscious buyers. In the wholesale markets, nobody cares if I use IPM methods said one farmer. DAM said they are going to set up temporary markets in 20 districts, and they intend to eventually establish 64 farmers’ markets across the country.