Govt fails to frame strategy for manpower export

Labour export has dropped in past three years; remittances unlikely to get boost

Shahbaz Rana March 16, 2019
The ECC was informed that labour export was declining due to economic slowdown, preference given to locals by Gulf countries and a lack of skilled workforce. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: Despite a sharp decline in export of manpower over the past three years, the government has so far not been able to frame a new strategy to deal with the matter, which may undermine its plans to increase the inflow of remittances to $30 billion.

Its only response to a crisis-like situation is the setting up of a task force, but it will comprise the departments that are largely responsible for the decline in manpower export.

Also, there is a dispute between the Ministry of Federal Education and Training and the Ministry of Human Resource Development and Overseas Pakistanis over the ownership of the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC). Under the rules of business, NAVTTC falls under the domain of the education ministry, but the human resource ministry wants to take its control, according to documents of the federal cabinet.

The government has not been able to appoint the head of Overseas Employment Corporation (OEC) - the entity responsible for government-to-government contracts for the export of manpower. It also did not take on board Overseas Employment Promoters (OEPs) during prime minister’s recent visits to Gulf countries.

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At a recent investment promotion conference in Qatar, the adviser to PM on commerce ignored the OEPs. There is also no follow-up to Qatar’s recent announcement to give 100,000 more jobs to the Pakistanis. But a human resource ministry official argued that it was not a new announcement as Qatar had already made the offer in 2015.

The lukewarm response to the situation will have adverse implications for the government’s plans to increase remittances and for households which have been adversely affected by declining overseas employment opportunities.

Overseas Pakistanis remitted $19.6 billion in the last fiscal year, which Prime Minister Imran Khan wants to enhance to $30 billion before the end of his term in 2023. Remittances grew over 11% in first eight months of the current fiscal year, but it was largely because of crackdown on money laundering, according to government officials.

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The human resource ministry last month gave a presentation to the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet on manpower export over the past three years. According to the ministry, the export of manpower had been constantly declining for the last three years, standing at only 382,439 people at the end of 2018. It was down 60% compared with statistics of 2015.

Only last year, there was a 23% reduction in manpower export. The trend was also not encouraging in January this year as only 43,835 people went abroad for jobs.

The ECC was informed that labour export was declining due to economic slowdown, preference given to locals by Gulf countries and a lack of skilled workforce.

Despite the downtrend in the export of manpower, which is the second biggest source of external account financing after exports, the issue has not featured on top of the government’s agenda.

The ECC gave directive for setting up a task force to make projections for overseas employment opportunities over the next five years and the remittances Pakistan would receive by exporting labour.

“The human resource ministry has sent a summary to the Prime Minister’s Office for constituting the task force,” an official of the ministry told The Express Tribune.

It has proposed to set up the task force under the chairmanship of special assistant to the prime minister on overseas Pakistanis. Its other proposed members include officials of the Ministry of Education and Training, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Information, NADRA chairman, NAVTTC chairman, provincial heads of the Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA), DG Bureau of Emigration and human resource secretary.

However, almost all these departments did nothing when overseas employment opportunities were shrinking. The Bureau of Emigration could not take timely action.

The human resource ministry thinks that the solution to the crisis is by taking over the ownership of NAVTTC. It also sought the cabinet’s approval in a meeting held in December last year.

“The Human Resource Division was advised to move a formal case for seeking approval of the cabinet on the transfer of NAVTTC from the Ministry of Federal Education and Training to the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis, by incorporating views of the education ministry,” said the cabinet in its decision.

But the education ministry is opposing the human resource ministry’s bid on the ground that the transfer of NAVTTC would not help increase manpower export, according to a senior official of the education ministry.

The human resource ministry insisted that overseas job opportunities were declining due to the Gulf countries’ decision to prefer their nationals over foreigners. But the people working with the OEPs said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were giving preference to their nationals only for senior posts.

They said these countries were still looking for overseas workers for performing low-paid unskilled jobs.

In 2017 and 2018, drivers and labourers accounted for 51% of the total manpower export from Pakistan, showed statistics of the human resource ministry. Other main professions were carpenters, masons, welders, electricians, steel fixers and rig workers.

The previous two governments appointed community welfare attaches abroad due to their political affiliations, who did not work to market Pakistani workers in these countries. An official of the human resource ministry said the government has now decided to appoint these people on merit.

Ministry officials insisted that the government was taking all possible measures to reverse the downward trend. They said it had been planned to compile data of overseas employment in the OEC which until recently was a redundant organisation.

But there is no head of the OEC and additional charge has been given to the BOE head. The human resource ministry sent a summary to the Establishment Division a month ago, but no decision has been taken yet.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2019.

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