Senate body also expressed its deep concern over the increasing incidences of human trafficking and fleecing by some overseas employment promoters.


Jan 01 - 14, 2007

Amid depressing reports pointing the declining manpower export from Pakistan during the last two to three years, an encouraging development took place last week when Minister for Labour, Manpower and Overseas Pakistanis, Ghulam Sarwar Khan and his UAE counterpart Dr. Ali Bin Abdullah Al-Kaabi inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for increasing manpower export to the Gulf state.

Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that UAE is the main market for Pakistani skilled and semi-skilled workers. He said that UAE's growing trend to import more Pakistani manpower was the result of mutual confidence and reliability between the two countries. "Pakistan exported 166,451 skill oriented persons during the last 11 months, of whom 91,675 went to UAE", Sarwar Khan added.

Talking to the newsmen Ghulam Sarwar said the government had introduced foolproof security system by issuing computerized identity cards, machine-readable passports and police clearing certificate to ensure the dispatch of eligible workers abroad. Besides, under integrated border control system, machine-readable visa system is being developed in the country to improve security and check irregularities in its migration system, he added. To a question, he said the present agreement would be in force for four years and would be automatically extended for four years consecutively, unless either party gives three months notice in advance denouncing it in writing. He said that Pakistan and UAE would set up a joint committee to take care of the follow-up of the implementation of this MoU.

Earlier, the Senate Standing Committee on Labour, Manpowr and Overseas Pakistanis, in its meeting in Islamabad, grilled the officials of the ministry over the declining manpower export and consequent decrease in foreign exchange earnings. The committee called for a major surgical operation to stem the tide and to rectify the situation. The committee also observed that dwindling manpower export was a grim reminder to heed the alarm bells and embark upon a disaster control strategy immediately. The absence of Federal Minister for Labour, Manpower and Overseas Pakistanis Ghulam Sarwar Khan was also strongly protested by the committee members, while the ministry officials defended his absence while informing the committee that he was on an official engagement with the Prime Minister.

committee membeWhile reviewing the performance of the ministry, the rs observed that Labour Attaches were not coming up to the expectations and there was a need to jolt them out of their deep slumber. It directed the ministry that people from the private sector and the country's premier chambers of commerce and industry be included in the Task Force constituted by the ministry to identify the ills. "A pro-active and aggressive marketing strategy is needed to increase the manpower export to the Gulf, Middle East and Far East," it felt. The committee directed the ministry for conducting market surveys, identify trades wherein most people were required, and provide proper training and enhance the level of skills of the workers to compete.

The committee also expressed its deep concern over the increasing incidence of human trafficking and fleecing by some overseas employment promoters. "Highly misleading advertisements are appearing in the newspapers almost daily, which mostly go unchecked," it observed. The committee members observed that in a country where literacy levels were low, people were falling rapidly into the traps laid by unscrupulous elements.

Senator Enver Baig had especially drawn the attention of the committee towards a Travel Advisory issued by the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs against traveling to Pakistan for its citizens in October 2006 and wanted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take up the matter with the Korean government. Similarly, he said that a complete list of human traffickers arrested so far be published along with their names, addresses and other relevant details so that people could be careful in dealing with them in future.

The committee members felt that the Labour Minister should himself lead delegations comprising OEPs to Middle East and other regions of the world which can be potentially targeted for manpower export and he must take along people from the respective chambers of commerce and industry, who are better equipped to gauge the situation and devise strategies themselves. The members also observed that the processing fee and other charges being taken from the workers were too high and the ministry, OEC etc should try to rationalize them in the light of the conditions prevailing in the country in general, wherein the potential immigrant workers literally "sells the family silver/jewellery etc" to go abroad.

The committee also took exception to newspaper reports regarding stranding of Pakistani workers in some countries abroad and discrepancy in actual payments/wages actually paid to them and what was promised to them earlier. It also directed the ministry to get the MoUs, vetted by legal experts to avoid trouble afterwards. The committee also called for an enhanced role of the country's ambassadors, high commissioners and labour attaches abroad not only in exploring new avenues for manpower export but also to improve the plight of the Pakistani workers aboard. The committee underlined the need for greater coordination between the Ministry of Labour and Manpower and the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior to improve the overall situation with regard to export of manpower and welfare of workers.

Pakistan happens to be one of those unfortunate counties whose economic well-being is linked to manpower export. Those who go abroad in search of greener pastures include the best and the brightest minds that help the host economies scale new heights as well as those who work better with their hands. Together they contribute to the economic progress of the host countries, the latter freeing the bulk of their people to concentrate on higher technology vocations and value added manufacturing, while expatriates from countries like Pakistan toil away in mostly low paid jobs. Our government is happy as long as they keep sending money back home. In fact home remittances are a big source of this country's foreign exchange earnings. And hence the major governmental concern is not the question why so many people leave; instead it is, why don't they leave in greater numbers? According to a press report, the government is very worried because manpower export is at a standstill for the last three years, and consequently annual remittances have remained stagnant at around $ 4 billion.

The Senate Standing Committee on Labour, Manpower and Overseas Pakistanis deliberated the issue, expressing the fear that the country will be losing one of its major income sources. Distressed committee members linked the "dwindling manpower export" to the ringing of alarm bells, which, they said, called for "a disaster control strategy immediately". They also suggested some remedial measures towards that end, such as an enhanced role of the country's diplomats abroad in finding job markets, constitution of a task force comprising, among others, representatives of different chambers of commerce and industry to identify the problems that have hindered manpower export. Some of the problems are well known. These have to do with lack of skill training and worker certification. Since there is no certification system in place, it is difficult to determine whether workers are suited for the jobs they are to perform abroad. In fact, more often than not, they do not even know what sort of jobs to expect when they get to a foreign country. Hence in a majority of cases, they are not equipped with the skills that may be necessary for a particular line of work.

Then there is the problem of unregulated recruiting agencies, which ask for exorbitant fees from candidates who can ill afford them. It is not enough, therefore, to ask our embassies abroad to find employment for more and more people, it is also important to take a hard look at the home front in order to improve worker skills as well as to prevent recruiting agencies form fleecing job seekers.

There is also need to inculcate a research and scientific evaluation culture to ensure accurate determination and analysis of data and arrive at sound conclusions. For instance, in the present case of the Senate Committee seems to be acting on the assumption that it would be good for the economy if more and more people went abroad. That makes sense in the context of maintaining forex reserves at a decent level, but not necessarily so for the long-term health of the economy.

Considering that the economy is expanding, and also that the government is insistent that unemployment has shown a significant reduction during the past few years, it is possible that the manpower export stagnation has something to do with these developments. That is, people are contributing in bigger numbers to the developmental effort at home rather than to work as low paid expatriate workers away from their families and familiar environs. In that case, it should be a matter of satisfaction rather than a signal for the alarm bells to start ringing unless we plan to increase our foreign exchange earnings through people exports instead of sale of goods and services in foreign markets.