Employees’ rights in Pakistan: Major factor behind ‘brain drain’ | By Ali Haider Saleem

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Employees’ rights in Pakistan: Major factor behind ‘brain drain’

ONE of the many obstructions in the way of economic and social progress of Pakistan is thecountry’s inability to retain its top talent.

Many Pakistanis opt to move abroad in the quest of a better career progression and lifestyle.

The unskilled workers usually turn towards the Middle Eastern countries to earn better salaries despite the harsh working environment and on the other hand the skilled workers in Pakistan who seek jobs abroad are often dissatisfied with the working environment and the benefits (if any) provided by their employers.

Thousands of people are leaving the country every year and Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment’s data highlights that most of these individuals are fresh graduates.

According to Investopedia, brain drain can result from turmoil within a nation, the existence of favorable professional opportunities in other countries, or from a desire to seek a higher standard of living.

The political and economic uncertainty in the country is often cited as the main reason behind the decision to leave the country.

However, the neglectful attitude of the majority of employers towards their employees also contributes towards brain drain.

Low starting wages, slow progression, limited benefits and unendurable working hours are just some of the factors that make employees demoralized.

The situation is even worse for interns who are often forced to do clerical work and there are very few employers who pay stipends to them.

The promise of a full-time position at the end of the internship period is off the table mostly.

The internship is the first sighting of the job market and environment for students and unfortunately they do not end up brimming with hope.

Full time employees are also handed down tasks in excess of their listed duties in a bid to get the most out of the human resource at disposal.

Cost cutting is essential for any organization to sustain and build itself but instead of introducing innovative approaches, many employers in Pakistan resort to exploitation.

Organizations are mostly dominated by elderly people who are reluctant to modernize and want to maintain a strong grip through traditional methods.

This also causes frustration among the younger pool which wants to be involved more meaningfully.

Employers are well aware of the fact that there are very few opportunities around and moving abroad takes considerable time and financial investment which gives them a strong leverage over their employees.

In addition, due to large scale unemployment there is a large pool of prospective applicants whom the employers can turn to in case any of the employees gets fed up.

For many decades, this culture has thrived because there is not much government regulation regarding employees rights.

For the state, the employers are mostly seen as a source of generating taxes, exports and employment.

In terms of employment, only the figures matter to state institutions which is consistent with its preference for output-based approach over outcome-based approach.

This model has plenty of drawbacks e.g. it does not matter if the government sets up a 100-bed hospital in a village unless the quality of healthcare provided by the set-up actually benefits the local community.

Government representatives and analysts regularly stress the importance of a vibrant private sector in achieving the true economic potential of the country.

In recent years, private sector-led growth has also been identified as a key enabler for achieving Sustainable Development Goals across the world as it can be more flexible, innovative and inclusive.

In Pakistan, however, the private sector has so far not been able to develop an appealing reputation.

The desire among the youth to join the public service is still strong and that has very much to do with the non-salary benefits they are likely to receive as government servants.

Due to the limited number of seats, the public sector can only absorb a tiny fraction of the labour force and those who are unsuccessful are forced to take difficult decisions.

Moreover, in the past, men were the only ones moving abroad for better opportunities but in recent years the share of women in the human capital outflow of the country has increased significantly.

Some may argue that brain drain is not a serious issue for the country as Pakistanis living overseas send substantial remittances which not only support their loved ones but also bolster the macroeconomic outlook of the country.

A report on the side effects of the remittances in Armenia highlighted that ‘10 percentage point increase in remittances negatively influences GDP growth by 0.2 percentage points over the long run.

’ In addition, a paper published in the International Journal of Economic Policy Studies showed that a 1% increase in remittance growth leads to 0.021% decrease in GDP per capita growth in Pakistan.

The main drawbacks of remittances on the economy are: promotion of dependency culture with negative consequences on supply of labour, appreciation of the currency that can make exports less competitive, people turning away from productive activities as money received from abroad is mainly used for consumption or in non-productive sectors such as real estate.

This only suggests that Pakistan cannot continue to neglect the issue of brain drain and both the private sector and regulators must take measures to provide the country’s brightest minds with a deserving environment and benefits.

—The author is a researcher based in Islamabad. He holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Queen Mary University of London.

 

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