The government plans to create separate databases for local and foreign workers in Bangladesh with the aim of restricting the recruitment of foreign nationals and facilitating more opportunities for the local workforce by improving their skills.
Officials at the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments said a project proposal involving an estimated cost of Tk49 crore has already been sent to the Planning Commission for the purpose.
They said the government has no exact data on how many foreign workers are in the country. However, many foreign nationals from various countries, including India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines are working legally or illegally in different industries of the country and sending a huge sum of money to their home countries.
According to them, it is possible to stop recruiting foreign workers by making local workers more skilled. But before that, it is necessary to know the actual number of foreign workers in the country and the areas in which they are working.
According to a 2020 report of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), at least 5 lakh foreign nationals are working in various areas of the public and private sectors in Bangladesh. Of them, only 1 lakh foreigners have a necessary work permit from BIDA.
As noted in the report, foreign workers are sending around $5 billion to their home countries, which is around a quarter of the remittances sent home by Bangladesh's expatriate workers.
Md Sirazul Islam, executive chairman of BIDA, told The Business Standard, "We do not have any information about foreigners who are working in this country illegally. The department concerned of the government should take necessary steps in this regard."
Dr Mohammad Abdur Razzaque, research director at the Policy Research Institute and chairman of Research and Policy Integration for Development, said, "Foreign workers must be brought under a registration process. Workers from other countries can be hired in sectors where our local workers have a lack of skills. But in this case, we also have to take action to improve the skills of our workers."
"If the government has all the information about the foreign workers, it becomes easy to make policy," he added.
Three lakh domestic workers to get identification number
Under the project, a national database of workers in the formal and informal sectors will also be created. Initially, three lakh workers will get labour identification numbers by March 2025.
Dr Mohammad Abdur Razzaque said, "A worker database is required to implement the National Social Security Strategy. Although it is easy to create a database of formal sector workers, it will be challenging in the case of the informal sector. But we have to start this work."
"The government has taken initiatives to introduce insurance schemes for workers under the National Social Security Strategy. It will be difficult to launch an insurance scheme without a database, which will be needed to provide various incentives to workers involved in accidents in the workplace," he said.
"There is a proposal to provide allowances for temporarily unemployed workers under the insurance scheme. There is no alternative to this database for introducing an active labour policy and converting informal workers into formal workers," Dr Razzaque further said.
Job portal for unemployed workers
An initiative has also been taken to create a national job portal under the proposed project to register unemployed workers with updated information. Employers will also be able to publish job advertisements on the portal.
The Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments said in the project proposal that the job portal will be created as there is no system to verify information on workers in the country. Besides, there is no exact place to find job-related information for workers.
However, most workers are not aware of what kind of skills they need in order to be hired. As a result, there is an imbalance between the demand and supply of workers, as per the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments.
During the implementation period of the project, information on 10,000 companies and 5,000 jobs will be published on the portal. Besides, around 1,000 workers will get career counselling service through it.
According to the latest labour survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the number of formal and informal workers is about 1.2 crore and 5.8 crore respectively.
According to BBS, in 2019, the number of manufacturing companies in the country was 46,291 with 5,879,844 workers. But in 2016-17, the number of unemployed people was 27 lakh.
In 2020, many companies laid off workers due to the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in the number of unemployed increasing heavily.
According to the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling, the poverty rate in the country has risen to 42% due to Covid-19. However, the number is 35% as per the findings of the Centre for Policy Dialogue.