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Revolutionizing the construction sector

  • Published at 11:48 pm September 13th, 2018
labour-force
The construction business is about the labourers too MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

Good hiring practices can increase efficiency and increase revenue

In the high noon of a summer, people of Dhaka can scurry to their destination under cool shades. Not shades of trees but rather the shades of the Dhaka skyline. A skyline littered with high-rises and their skeletons. 

Workers can be seen binding rods on the higher floors of an under-construction building. Workers hanging off the ledges; hard at work earning their keep.  

The growth of GDP and a small, densely populated country has given rise to the high-rise construction business in the country. The average income in the country today is more than 75% higher than in 1990, which has been done even with its vulnerability to natural calamities. The per-capita income has not fallen in a single year since 1990, even in years in which have seen severe floods.

Under the Sixth Five Year Plan (2010‐2015), Bangladesh government aimed to achieve 8% growth in real GDP by the end of the plan period. However, poor status of infrastructural development is acting as a serious binding constraint to realizing that growth target. 

The construction business isn’t just about the equipment or the company. It’s about the labourers as well. A good hiring practice can increase efficiency in the construction business and increase revenue. 

Currently, we are witnessing a continued GDP growth rate of 7.5% per annum. Such sustained growth is necessary to keep up the identity of a middle-income country. Refining the country’s infrastructural system will thus be essential for achieving high economic growth, which is important if poverty reduction is to accelerate.

The construction business can be ace in the hole for Bangladesh. With the looming emergence of automation in the production sector, regiments of skilled and unskilled labourer can be a boon for the construction business. The construction labourers can be the beacons of a new era with available jobs.

In Bangladesh, the construction process is still traditional, ie, it is labour intensive. Even the labourers are traditionally skilled. They learn the work from kin-to-kin basis. A worker often brings a son, or a nephew to learn the tools of the trade and get familiarized with the peers of work. Because in future, they will have to depend on the good grace of the middlemen.  

The mechanization of the construction works is still at the beginning level. Construction works utilize machines to crush bricks or the cements are premixed in the factories. But it still remains labour intensive. So, the labour skills are passed down from family members or mentorship. Thus, the workers lack proper skills.  

The construction companies often give the responsibility of hiring labourers to other sub-contractors. The nature of employment in the construction sector is informal. Workers are employed daily without any recruitment letter or contract, and there is no practice of giving wage slips or maintaining record books.

Safety measures are still not up to the standard expectation due to lack of knowledge, experience, and awareness. According to REHAB, 3.5 million people work in the construction sector in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies reported, in a timespan of 11 years (2005-2016), 1,196 construction workers were killed on work sites. 

There are several safety measures advised by the National Building Code. But they are treated mostly as guidelines, to be glossed over. Building owners do not feel compelled to follow the rules due to a lack of government inspections. The governing body claims a lackluster manpower. But the problems have a simpler root. 

Workers can be easily cheated and denied deserved payment by the contractors. Along with the risks of deprivation of wages, the absence of a safe working environment and termination of job without any notice and/or payment, while female workers are also at risk of harassment and mistreatment. There are also incidents of gender bias in hiring of labourers. 

The construction industry in Bangladesh exhibits gender biases in many respects and for many reasons. Construction work requires physically strong labourers and that is why it is referred to as “masculine work.” Women construction workers are considered “weak labour” in this sector. 

Women are also regarded as unskilled, cheap, available, and flexible labourers. Because of these gender stereotypes, women workers in Bangladesh’s construction industry are appointed to do simple tasks requiring the least skill, and in addition, as this sector does not offer them equal career opportunities, they also receive unequal pay.

These issues can easily be dealt with digitization of the labour force. A digital platform will effectively remove the middlemen from the equation. This platform can function as a labour pool for the construction companies. A bevy of workers at your fingertips, along with their credentials, work experience, and everything. 

A digital platform for hiring workers can also work to alleviate the gender biases in the hiring process. The government agency tasked with overseeing the safety measures can also benefit from the platform. 

They can use their already limited personnel and use the digital platform. They can have direct feedback from the workers and work accordingly. The construction companies will be able to find better workers. Companies can also invest on the skill development of the workers. 

Granted, the proper use of digital hiring platform for construction workers seem like a far-off dream. There is a lot of foundational work to be done. But with proper training and implementation, the digital hiring platform can simply revolutionize the construction sector of Bangladesh.  

Esa Abrar Khan is a practicing architect in New York, visiting faculty at the Department of Architecture, University of Asia Pacific, and an international conveyor of Ecology Movement.