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Whither the jobs?

Updated February 13, 2017

The country’s job landscape has changed radically over the past two decades. Currently the accounting/finance, sales/marketing and ICT sectors are top job creators. However, hardly 5pc of total applicants actually succeed in landing a decent job.

Technological disruption, premature shrinkage of the manufacturing sector and demographic changes in an environment of an anaemic growth rate explained the chaos and overcrowding in the job market.

According to human resource practitioners, the unemployment rate is very high and Pakistan currently lacks the capacity to absorb about two million youth entering the already swarming job market every year.

While they do not have figures to back their claim, they estimate that the unemployment rate is at 15pc, three times higher than the current official rate of 5.2pc.

These experts stress that this issue has been ignored for too long and deserves the government’s immediate attention.

“Happenings around the world reaffirm that people care most for jobs. Be it Brexit or Trump’s triumph in the US, it was all about jobs in the end”, said an economist.


The country currently lacks the capacity to absorb about two million youth entering the already swarming job market every year


He argued that job creation in Pakistan is crucial for three key reasons: sustainability of peace and growth, expanding the constituency for democracy and gaining public support essential for success of the CPEC.

He pressed that poverty and social issues could not be dealt with satisfactorily without mainstreaming the idle work-force that was seeking employment. He thought concessions and direct petty cash transfers can at best provide a temporary relief.

“People wish for and deserved employment opportunities and jobs to lead a decent, dignified life. It would be wrong to assume that growth will necessarily improve the job situation. Rulers must remember voters’ verdict in India in 2004 when they turned the tables on BJP despite a steady GDP growth rate” a lady economist remarked.

Dr Aliya Khan, an economist with a keen eye on labour affairs, recently hammered the idea of valuing the human dimension of policy initiatives. She called to and I quote: “Development of a Labour Market Information and Analysis System (LMIAS), for the CPEC to integrate and mainstream the elements of labour market dynamics in this historic opportunity of Pak-China cooperation for the socio-economic uplift and development of the people of this region, in particular the large proportion of the male and female youth entering the labour market in search of decent and productive jobs”.

An informal survey revealed major distortions in the country’s labour market owing to misallocation, mistreatment and under-utilisation of precious human resource.

The situation, if allowed to persist, would compromise efforts directed to promote efficiency and fairness in the economic system. It would retard the pace of wealth generation and perpetuate income disparities in a society already divided beyond all perceivable ways.

“Pakistan is a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals that recognises the right to gainful employment to all and calls on governments to make labour market fair and free. Do we ever mean what we pledge?” asked a labour affairs expert.

In Pakistan the job-worker mismatch compromises the productivity potential of the economy and generates friction and frustration in youth. Workforce abundance has empowered employers to dictate terms. Weak governance allowed managements to flout labour laws at will.

Most officers contacted for comments referred to the Pakistan Labour Force Survey that projects the unemployment rate and trends in Pakistan on the basis of a survey of 47,000 people across the country.

According to an informed source associated with the Federal Bureau of Statistics the survey only treated respondents seeking a job and had not been able to find one as being unemployed. The rest were assumed to be employed.

It explains why the survey showed citizens in the age band of 65 years and above, almost cent per cent employed (0.16pc unemployed) with greater employment in old women (0.05pc unemployed). Unemployment was highest in the age band of 15-19 at 1.26pc but girls were luckier as their unemployment rate was stated to be 0.33pc in the same age bracket.

The labour force in the survey referred to all citizens of 10 years of age or over. When contacted over phone a senior officer, who wished not to be identified, told Dawn that internationally accepted definitions were used since the data was consistently used by multilateral agencies as well.

According to the survey, agriculture employs 43.7pc of the workforce, 33.9pc are absorbed by the service sector and 22.4pc by the industry.

Monas Rahman, CEO and founder of Rozee, a match-making online portal for the labour market, found an official 5.2pc unemployment rate grossly understated.

“For about a thousand new jobs advertised on this one portal daily, about 40,000 people apply”, he said, substantiating his perception of a wide supply demand gap.

“Pakistan is an employers’ market because of a widening supply and demand gap. What bargaining position can anyone have when there are teeming millions waiting outside the gate ready to replace you for half the pay”, remarked an observer.

“The delusional policymakers can’t hide behind the official unemployment rate for good”, said another observer.

Unfortunately politicians, across the political divide, talk of merit in recruitment but indulge in nepotism unabashedly.

“Government jobs and posting are used by power wielders to reward their relatives/loyalists without any regard to merit, or sold for a high price beyond the affordability of the common man. The running rate for a police constable in Sindh is Rs600,000”, commented a bitter retired bureaucrat.

Some concerned high ranking officials talked of contempt in the private sector towards workers. “The moment one tries to raise issues related to the labour force, company heads close ranks to resist. They consider it an assault on the free market ideology and an expression of ‘socialist bend’ in the government”, he said.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, February 13th, 2017