SENATE BODY REALIZES NEED TO PROMOTE MANPOWER EXPORT

The dynamics of employment business in present times revolve not so much around the demand, but on the competition between suppliers.

ENGR HUSSAIN AHMAD SIDDIQUI
Apr 16 - 22, 2007

The Senate Standing Committee on Labor, Manpower and Overseas Pakistanis has recently underscored the need to take immediate steps to increase the export of manpower in the wake of its decline during the last couple of years.

Indeed, the export of manpower from Pakistan to various host countries has demonstrated decelerating trend, unable to meet the annual target. Based on average export figures achieved in 1990s, the government had fixed, in the year 2003, a target of sending 150,000 workers and professionals for overseas employment every year. During the calendar year 2006 Pakistan has provided overseas jobs to 143,329 persons, according to the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment.

In comparison, 184,271 Pakistanis had obtained employment abroad in 2003 and 173,824 in 2004. Manpower export performance, however, registered a sharp decline in 2005 when only 91,773 persons could proceed abroad. The situation did improve in succeeding years, but the government could not take measures on a sustained basis, despite tall claims and relatively better environment witnessed in the overseas markets.

PAST PERFORMANCE

Since the launching of manpower export in 1971 till last year, as many as 3,830,695 persons have proceeded abroad on employment, ranging from illiterate laborers to highly qualified professionals. It is estimated that at present there are about three million Pakistani families living and working abroad. Their remittances, which remain a major source to bridge the current huge trade deficit, amounted to US$ 4.6 billion during July 2005-June 2006, whereas the country received additional $ 2.9 billion during July 2006-January 2007. Nonetheless, in case the present declining trend in manpower export is allowed to continue, the foreign remittances will decrease substantially and resultantly, the country's foreign reserves will face adverse affect in future.

Middle East or the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are the major markets for Pakistani manpower where about 96 per cent of the total overseas Pakistanis were provided jobs in the past decades. Majority of the Pakistani workforce had gone to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whereas the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the second largest market for Pakistani laborers, followed by Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.

Though declining in recent years, Pakistan still has significant share in the total migrant workforce in the Middle East, but with a different proportion at present. Demand of Pakistani labor, mostly unskilled, by Saudi Arabia has seen a sharp decrease in recent years. Resultantly, Saudi Arabia received 35,798 Pakistani workers in 2005 and 45,594 in 2006, in comparison to 126,602 in 2003. Thus Saudi Arabia has now lost its first ranking position of absorbing Pakistani workforce to the UAE that provided employment to 100,207 Pakistanis last year.

Other host countries include Oman with 12,614 Pakistani workers, Kuwait with 10,545 and Qatar with 2,247 workers in 2006. Bahrain is yet another traditional market for our workforce, where the demand of skilled manpower and professionals continue to be met by the foreigners. The job opportunities are available in various sectors that include tourism, shipping, aluminum smelting, oil refining, municipal services, desalination plants, power plants and fertilizer plants. Sadly, the number of Pakistani workers there is currently insignificant, as only 1,630 Pakistani workers were able to secure employment in Bahrain during 2006.

UNLIMITED POTENTIAL

In fact, the business of manpower export, especially in today's globalized world economy, has unlimited potential for Pakistan, despite the economic, political, and social instabilities in many countries. Middle East remains the prime market for Pakistani manpower and continues to offer good prospects to Pakistani professionals. Kuwait, once third largest country importing our workers and with the presence of 125,000 Pakistani nationals currently, has decreased its manpower demand since 2003. The country, however, has recently removed ban on visa for Pakistani labor that was imposed about six months ago.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has reportedly suspended giving employment visa to Pakistani labor under new regulatory requirements. The issue, which came to limelight in January 2007, is yet to be resolved. Yet Qatar, which accepts Pakistani labor for many years, has recently agreed to formalize an understanding that would allow employment to 50,000 - 70,000 Pakistanis within a year.

Pakistan perhaps failed to realise that the current and future requirements in these countries were those of skilled, highly skilled or technical persons and professionals. These are needed in the fields of agriculture, construction, maintenance, engineering, cement, fertilizer and steel industries, oil refining, telecommunications, tourism, electronics, media, seaports, airports, highways, utilities and other infrastructure projects. Employment opportunities also exist in the professions of accounting, banking, information technology, economics, water resources management, teaching, medicine and nursing.

Pakistan needs to adopt a dynamic strategy, with focus on first consolidating and then developing its Middle East market. This it can do by matching the required job demands with suitable persons who are to be trained and groomed specifically for this market. Skilled manpower is a field in which Pakistan should have developed an edge by now. Our technical institutes and universities produce skilled persons by thousands and these are the workers Pakistan should concentrate on.

There should be re-emphasis on promoting technical and vocational training, as there appears to be a gap of skills in the country. Teaching them value-added features should enhance their academic skill. Knowing basic languages like Arabic, English and French is a start. Familiarity with domestic conditions, discipline, teamwork and a work-oriented approach instilled in a jobseeker will also help. Similarly, Pakistani professionals are of considerable quality, and are qualified to help strengthen the development base of the host countries. They, however, need to observe international standards and the respective country's social and legal framework, which at times some fail to do so.

NEW MARKETS

Potential new markets for Pakistani manpower include any and all friendly countries that are relatively peaceful and have a future outlook on their development. We are already catering to the manpower needs of the countries like Libya, Yemen, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, though on a small scale. These countries are satisfied with the hard work and adaptability of the Pakistani workers and may prefer to employ them for various development projects in the respective industrial, oil and non-oil sectors. These markets however need to be developed further. Libya had shown interest, in 1999, to employ 100,000 persons over a period of five years but due to lack of effective follow-up on our part, the demand has not materialized so far.

Likewise, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) concluded between Malaysia and Pakistan in August 2003 to meet manpower demand has been implemented only after two years. Pakistan was thus able to send 7,707 skilled workers to Malaysia during 2005, against requirement of about 100,000. During 2006, the number of workers leaving for Malaysia decreased to the level of 4,757. In fact the Malaysian government had indicated a total manpower demand of 200,000 over a period of three years that we have yet to meet fully.

Republic of Korea is considered an attractive destination for Pakistani skilled workers, where Pakistan exported 1,082 persons in 2006. Highly educated, mainly teachers, professionals and hi-tech personnel can gainfully be employed in Republic of Korea, Nigeria, Syria, Morocco, Uganda, Kenya and Sudan. Pakistan has recently signed an agreement with Singapore for allocation of quota for its manpower export that would open job opportunities to a large number of skilled and qualified Pakistanis.

And the like, Germany, the USA and the UK require a considerable number of foreign workers in the fields of Information Technology (IT), engineering, teaching and medicine, and our professionals can be effectively absorbed there. A breakthrough in these markets has been made afresh by Pakistan last year by sending 1,741 professionals to the UK and another 202 to the USA. Pakistan and European Union may shortly sign an agreement for increased jobs quota for Pakistan nationals in the European states.

STRATEGIC MARKETING NEEDED

To mobilize its resources seeking a reasonable share in these markets Pakistan however requires strategic marketing based on a thorough analysis of the economic and potential situations in these countries, as well as identifying and creating a niche for Pakistani manpower. The dynamics of the employment business in present times revolve not so much around the demand, but on the competition between suppliers. Pakistani manpower has to develop a competitive edge, identifying the categories in which the nation is better placed in comparison to India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines etc. In order to compete with these countries we may target and develop new upcoming categories and occupations, required by the overseas markets, such as, printing and packaging, aircraft maintenance, cargo warehousing, jewelry making, plantation management, hotel and tourism etc.

It is proposed to establish a "National Manpower Export Promotion Council" to increase manpower export by locating opportunities for Pakistani workers and qualified persons in the changing global market and to enhance capacity building of the Pakistani workforce. The suggested council may consist of nominees of professional bodies of engineers, doctors and accountants, retired ambassadors and those from the field of IT, education, human resource (HR) and others, having first-hand experience of the related overseas markets. The council may act as an advisory body to the Ministry of Labor, Manpower and Overseas Pakistanis, on the pattern of recently nominated investment counselors abroad by the Board of Investment that has been a happy experience.