The proposed budget for the fiscal 2021-21 lacks a specific action plan for people who lost jobs during the pandemic, and the youths entering the job market.
The proposed budget offers a 10-year tax exemption to training institutions that offer degrees on farming, fisheries, science and IT. The policy support, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal believes, will attract local and foreign investments generating new jobs.
The minister said the government will introduce internship programmes in both private and public sectors so that fresh graduates can secure a job easily. He announced formulating a policy framework in the upcoming FY2021-22 to launch the internship scheme.
In his budget speech, Mustafa Kamal said, "The government is pursuing a sector-based employment policy, under which the issue of employment is being actively considered while making large-scale government investment and providing incentives to industry and trade."
He said 10 lakh jobs for the young people have already been created in the IT sector, and another 10 lakh people will be employed by 2021 to achieve the goal of "Digital Bangladesh".
But entrepreneurs are not as optimistic as the finance minister is over retaining the existing jobs amid the pandemic, and to generate more in post pandemic-era.
AKM Fahim Mashroor, former president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) and chief executive officer of bdjobs.com, said, "Considering the employment situation of the last few years, the chances of the finance minister fulfilling this expectation are slim.
"In the last couple of years, ICT sector exports have not increased while many IT firms have been shutting down. Some foreign companies have turned up in the market, but they offer a few jobs for us. I personally do not think there will be so many jobs in the next one year. Job market data is not positive either."
The Tk1.28 lakh crore stimulus packages the government announced last year were mainly to keep the industry and trade running as well as retaining the jobs.
Businessmen will be able to take loans from the packages for the next two years, but there is no scope for building new production units with the funds.
In Bangladesh, youths account for more than 50% of the country's population, and more than 20 lakh of them enter the job market every year. Besides, a large number of people have lost their jobs at home and abroad due to the pandemic-led economic shock.
The new budget proposed slashing allocation for "food for work" and "cash for work" schemes meant for the poor workers.
The allocation in the proposed budget for the national service programme – meant for generating temporary employment in districts – has also been significantly reduced compared to the FY21.
Only Tk95 crore has been allocated in the programme in the next year while it has Tk577 crore allocated in the current year.
The finance minister said the rural development and infrastructure projects that are to be implemented in the next fiscal year will create employment for 2.43 lakh people. However, to make the jobs available, the government will have to ensure project execution on time in the first place.
"Our goal is not only to achieve growth, but also to bring about qualitative change in the living standards of people by alleviating poverty and reducing inequality," said the finance minister.
"So, domestic and foreign employment, microfinance and training for skill development will get more focus," he added.
The finance ministry is implementing the Skills for Employment Investment Programme to provide demand-based inclusive skills development training to the industrial sector. The government says 8,41,680 people will be provided with training through the arrangement.
In addition, the National Skills Development Authority is working to generate a skilled workforce.
Instead of long-term plans, the finance minister elaborated various ongoing programmes.
He said the government's efforts would continue to salvage about 57 lakh people out of poverty and turn them into small and medium entrepreneurs under the "Amar Bari Amar Khamar" project.
He said 1 lakh new job seekers have been provided with skill training and job under the ongoing "Skills for Employment Investment Programme". Specialized management courses have been introduced in top universities to create the mid-level managers in the textile and readymade garments sector.
The minister said the ministry has taken initiative to train 5,000 e-commerce entrepreneurs under a project, adding that 3,500 entrepreneurs have already been trained.
Without mentioning the number of workers who had returned home after losing jobs abroad due to the pandemic, the finance minister said 2.17 lakh workers went to foreign countries last year.
'Budget lacks initiatives to save and generate jobs'
Professor Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha, Dhaka University economics teacher and research director of the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem), said many people lost jobs last year due to the pandemic. The second wave has started ravaging the country before the job recovery.
"Considering the fact, the budget does not have any visible measures to save and generate employment," she noted.
Referring to tax exemptions and incentives to some sectors, Professor Bidisha said some jobs will pop up if the sectors can turn around availing the facilities.
"Most of last year's stimulus packages are low-cost loans while many small ventures did not get access to it. Some small enterprises that got the loans now are not able to repay the loans," she said.
Dr Bidisha demanded budget allocation to provide cash aid to labour intensive small ventures.