I RECENTLY had the experience of being on a three-member panel formed for conducting interviews in one of the organisations under the federal government. There were approximately 900 candidates who applied against five advertised posts of Basic Scale-1 with an upper age limit of 25 years and an additional five-year conditional relaxation.
Given the scenario, the ratio of 180 candidates per available post makes the reported national unemployment rate of 6.2 per cent seem questionable.
The interview process took around 30 working days to conclude and was quite reflective of the dismal state of literacy among the youth, calling into question the country’s literacy rate of 58pc. And to the utter dismay of the panel, the majority of the matriculate applicants were unable to read a simple, short passage of Urdu with even fewer candidates able to reproduce it in script.
Labour reforms should not be delayed.
Overall, the interview process highlighted some of the underlying patterns prevalent in the job market today which, if analysed, are not only indicative of the malaise marring the general state of affairs in the country, but if left unaddressed will negatively affect socio-economic conditions in the future.
One of the most significant problems faced during the interview process was the mismatch between the job requirement and the job seekers’ profiles and credentials. While a few candidates fit the job description, the majority interviewed were either over- or underqualified.
Another issue that came to the fore was job dissatisfaction among the employed youth. Of the candidates already employed, these were of two kinds — the ones working in the private sector and the others working as non-regular (temporary) government employees. While the latter were looking for a permanent option within the government, the former gave poor work conditions such as low pay, non-rationalised work hours, lack of growth opportunities and job security as main reasons for wanting to leave their current jobs.
Also, an important issue noted was that of negligible employment opportunities available to the country’s 2.8pc population comprising of persons with disabilities (PWDs). Although the government has a framework in the form of Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981, ratification of international instruments such as ILO Convention No 159 (Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) and the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), not much has been done to assimilate PWDs into the mainstream productive workforce except for the allocation of a 2pc quota — rarely leading to positions available to them due to scant number of total vacancies.
Further, no concrete mechanism has been devised to implement policies wherein it is ensured that they get fair opportunities in the private sector as well, thus leaving PWDs either under- or unemployed. Consequently, PWDs have faced increasing discrimination leading to low morale, education, and vocational/professional skill development.
Keeping in view the employment situation and the provisions of equality and social justice enshrined in the Constitution, the government needs to immediately take up the agenda of labour reforms.
First, the government should consolidate the various extant overlapping and redundant policies into a comprehensive law, addressing issues of industrial relations, employment and service conditions, occupational safety and health, and labour development, welfare and social security.
Second, it should bridge the gap between potential employers and employees by identifying and facilitating target job marketing/employment opportunities such as holding job fairs, though only in relevant institutions.
Third, the government could set up a regulatory body at the federal level to identify, define, implement, monitor and enforce compliance with rules regarding basic defined ‘hygiene factors’ for every job category in liaison with an inspection team. Fourth, it should regularly revisit and update job categories recognising and including new professions, skills and vocations.
Fifth, serious effort is needed to mainstream the informal economy resulting in not only revenue loss but also labour exploitation. For the purpose, it could encourage formation and regulation of worker unions as these go a long way in protecting employees’ rights through negotiations. Rest assured, adoption of the practice of picketing and other similar disruptive means have been rejected in the past, allowing an inbuilt check on sustainability of unions as well.
In the end, a prudent attitude governing industrial relations and a legitimate forum recognising and addressing worker grievances will result in a win-win situation for both the employer and the employees, thus paving the way for improving Pakistan’s average labour productivity growth rate.
The writer is a civil servant currently serving in the Finance Division.
Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2015