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Book Review: Employment and Labour Market in Development Discourse by Towfiqul Islam Khan

Published in The Daily Star on Monday, 6 July 2015.

Unnoyon Bhabnay Kormosongsthan O Sromobazar (Employment and Labour Market in Development Discourse)

Author: Dr Rizwanul Islam

Reviewed by Towfiqul Islam Khan


Literature on economics and development in Bangla language can hardly be found. Economists in Bangladesh are generally comfortable in writing academic articles and books in English. In recent years, several volumes on economics and development have been published in Bangla. However, they are mostly compilations of op-eds which may be good popular write-ups but have focused very little on academic rigor. When I have read the latest book by Dr Rizwanul Islam titled Unnoyon Bhabnay Kormosongsthan O Sromobazar (Employment and Labour Market in Development Discourse), published by The University Press Limited in 2015 Ekushey Boi Mela, I have found it being very exceptional. The book has been written in lucid Bangla and the arguments are backed by rigorous analyses. Indeed, the book is a true academic contribution in the field of economics and development and written in Bangla!Dr. Rizwanul Islam was Special Advisor at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in Geneva, Switzerland when he retired in 2009. He was also an Associate Professor at the University of Dhaka. He worked throughout his career, which spanned over four decades, to provide technical advice to the governments in developing countries on how to integrate employment and poverty issues into development policies and plans. Thus, the volume has been written with undoubted authority. As a matter of fact, his recent book in English (co-authored with Dr. Iyanatul Islam, who is currently Chief, Employment and Labour Market Policies Branch, ILO, Geneva, Switzerland) published from Routledge in 2014 was also on similar topic.

Although the author does not consider the volume being a ‘text-book’ per se, I feel this can be a very helpful reference book. The central idea of the discussed book is to establish the importance of having an inclusive growth focused development strategy through promoting employment and labour market. The book is divided into eleven chapters. Chapter 1 depicts the concepts as regards employment and labour market. Chapter 2 establishes the importance of employment in inclusive growth and pro-poor growth whilst the issue of structural change from the perspective of employment is discussed in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 highlights the challenge of maintaining employment friendly economic growth. The following three chapters discusse youth employment, human resource development and employment, and employment in informal sector respectively. Chapter 8 and 9 examines the relationship of employment with public works programmes and social protection respectively. Chapter 10 reviews the linkages between macroeconomic policies and employment. Chapter 11, which is the closing chapter identifies the challenges for Bangladesh in the context of employment. Indeed, the volume has covered a comprehensive set of issues related to employment and labour market.

The content can itself explain the importance of this book from the perspective of development policies in Bangladesh. Indeed, for Bangladesh, labour is the distinct factor endowment and this relative abundance of labour provides Bangladesh with a comparative advantage in the production of labour intensive goods. However this advantage is undermined by a number of challenges, the most important of which is the growth of the labour force resulting in the entry of approximately 21 million people into the working-age population over the next decade. Bangladesh economy has absorbed just under half of the incremental in the labour force into the economy during the period 2000-2010. This ‘demographic dividend’ can only become an advantage if apt policy steps are taken within the window of opportunity, which is expected to remain accessible for the next 10-20 years. One needs to recognize that, labour income was the single most important contributor to poverty reduction in the period 2000-2010. Hence, in order to attain the objective of inclusive growth over the next decade or so, the key objective of the policy makers should be to increase the efficiency, efficacy and the resilience of the labour market of Bangladesh.

From the perspective of development planning, 2015 is a critical year. It is the year when the ongoing development plan in Bangladesh, the Sixth Five Year Plan reaches its finishing line and the Seventh Five Year Plan will commence. 2015 is also about to bring a new set of global development goals and targets in the form of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The issue of generating full and productive employment and decent work for all is emphasized in the SDGs along with sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth which is covered under the proposed Goal 8.Curiously, the twenty-five background studies conducted for the 7th Five Year Plan (7FYP) did not include any comprehensive study on employment and labour market. The study on demographic dividend made little mention about the inclusive growth objective.

The paper mainly focused on the projections on population structure and mentioned the challenges of the changes in age distribution and population density. The paper also highlights the need for a job-rich economic growth in times of the so-called demographic dividend. In contrast, the draft 7FYP document proposes ambitious employment generation targets, annually 3.7 million during the plan period. It is to be recalled that the Finance Minister, during his recent budget speech, informed the nation that annually 1.3 million jobs in the domestic market and 0.5 million abroad were generated during 2010-2013, However, it has not been mentioned that between 2005-06 and 2010, the corresponding figures were 1.7 million and 0.6 million respectively – a slowdown in employment generation. This implies a slowdown in annual employment generation after 2010 (in both home and abroad) in comparison to previous four years. In this context, one of the key objectives of the forthcoming 7FYP should be revert the recent trend and focus on inclusive growth through generating full and productive employment and decent work for all. In this context, the volume by Dr. Rizwanul Islam is a useful input for developing strategies during the 7FYP period.

Towfiqul Islam Khan is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD). Email: towfiq.khan@gmail.com


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