Published in The Financial Express on Wednesday, 4 November 2015.

BBS quarterly update on labour force stumbles at takeoff stage
Setback for logistics shortcoming under aided project

Jasim Uddin Haroon

A move for releasing quarterly updates on labour force in relation to domestic and overseas employment under an aided project stumbled at the very takeoff stage.

People close to the initiative blamed the setback mainly on failure in procuring logistics, including computing machines needed for countrywide data collection.

The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the national statistical organisation, made the move last May for releasing quarterly data from the first quarter (July-September) of the current fiscal year.

A project costing Tk 110 million, with World Bank support worth Tk 5.8 million, is in place for producing updated data on labour force every quarter for use by policymakers in dealing with the situation.

Under the project, styled Labour Market Information System (LMIS), the BBS completed all necessary preparations, including hiring enumerators and training them. It planned to release the first take sometime in the just-past month of October.

The national statistical organisation planned to collect the field- level data through tabs meant for quick data processing instead of manual processing.

The BBS officials briefed reporters at the time that enumerators would put in the date through tabs.

People close to the project told the FE that the BBS failed to procure tabs timely to get online data. At last the agency later decided to proceed with manual data collection instead of digital drive.

Accordingly, the BBS is now collecting data manually in the fields, which will lead to a further delay in getting and, therefore, releasing the findings.

A source associated with the project said the final results of the July-September labour-force data will take at least few more months to come out.

“It may be December or January,” he said.

It was a major shift in its previous policy stance on doing the same at three to four years’ intervals.

Meanwhile, the BBS conducted a labour force survey in 2013 and it is yet to release the final findings.

Contacted about the dilemmas, Md Kabir Uddin Ahmed, a joint director at the industry and labour wing of the BBS, told the EE they had been working on the matter. “We’ll release the data quickly.”

It is believed that the quarterly labour-force survey will portray the rate of employment, unemployment, new job creation, wages. It is also believed that the survey will produce both demand-and supply-side data.

Many experts familiar with the labour survey told the FE that BBS should assess its capacity and check earlier before going into such type of undertaking.

“I am raising this question because some of their reports come out with substantial time lag,” said one expert, who worked with the International Labour Organisation.

Another expert lamented though BBS conducted LFS (Labour Force Survey) in 2013, its report was yet to see the light of day.

Towfiqul Islam Khan, a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said initiative for releasing quarterly data was a good move as many advanced nations produce it on monthly basis.

A World Bank official working in the city said they had provided technical assistance to the BBS in this regard. The BBS also planned that after end of the project in June in 2017 this will be as usual part of the BBS like the regular releases on other aspects— consumer price index and inflation.

The quarterly survey enables short-term employment data to be generated and the quarterly periodicity offers the possibility of analysing infra-annual transitions on the labour market.

The ultimate objective is to collect on a quarterly basis a wide range of statistical data to be used for the production and analysis of robust, streamlined and comprehensive indicators continuously fed into a full-fledged labour-market information system.

The quarterly releases will help the ILO constituents, policymakers and major stakeholders in Bangladesh to have internationally comparable, comprehensive and up-to-date information to design sound labour market.

An official at the project said this is important also as it will help evaluate and monitor the implementation of the country’s Seventh Five Year Plan (2016-20) and the long-term Government Vision 2021 and Perspective Plan (2010-2021).

A good number of key indicators of the labour market are recommended by the international community for use in the labour-market analysis, a project synopsis says.

These categories of indicators can be classified, by field of activity, employment, status of employment and education status or by geographic area, sex or age group.

This survey holds unlimited possibilities for compiling databases on the labour market and indicators for describing or formulating policies.

The main indicators are: labour-force participation rate, employment-to-population ratio, status in employment,  employment by sector,  employment by occupation, part-time workers, hours of work, employment in the informal economy, unemployment, youth unemployment, long-term unemployment, time-related underemployment, inactivity, educational attainment and illiteracy, average monthly wages, hourly compensation costs, labour productivity and so on.




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