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Women, persons with disabilities neglected

by Khan Helal

Retailers in Bangladesh are reluctant to hire women and persons with disabilities because of safety and security issues, and the perception that women have limited capacity to endure physical strain, found a recent survey. 

Only 2 percent of retailers are willing to hire persons with disabilities, it revealed.

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Retail employees work for an average of 11 hours a day in a single shift. They mostly can avail annual leaves but are not usually granted maternity or paternity leaves, it found.

Only half of the workplaces have policies to protect their employees from sexual harassment.

The baseline survey was conducted by Innovision Consulting Ltd, commissioned by Brac’s Skills Development Programme (SDP), to create employable skills and decent work opportunities for the marginalised youth.

The survey’s findings were shared yesterday at a webinar titled “The future of skills and employment in the retail sector”, organised by SDP.

The survey also reveals existing skill gaps of salespeople engaged in the sector. For example, 68 percent of employers said their salespeople are unable to meet sales targets; 54 percent stated the salespeople lack communication skills; and 64.6 percent mentioned that their sales staff’s knowledge of products is inadequate.

The survey, conducted under SDP’s “Progressing the retail sector by improving decent employment (PRIDE)” project and funded by IKEA Foundation and UBS Optimus, interviewed 720 respondents, who were employers and employees in the retail sector in Dhaka, Chattogram, Khulna and Sylhet.

Identifying mindset and social barriers as the most important problems in the sector, Shaheen Khan, chief executive officer of Gemcon Food and Agricultural Products Ltd, said a shift in culture and mindset is required for people to come and join in retail, be it at management or non-management level.

“Even though entry-level employees learn fast, there is still a large chunk or group of employees who move quite frequently within the sector, which remains a major challenge. The employees need to receive training regularly to gather skills, but it must be a continuous process, so that content of training is also revised regularly depending on demand,” he said.

Brac Executive Director Asif Saleh said potential employees will not be interested to gather skills if they do not get enough incentive. Also, stakeholders need to run campaigns to change the existing perception about retail sector employment.

“Brac and partners can work together on finding the neediest people and arranging training for them, so that potential candidates join the workforce after being skilled, which will create a win-win proposition for all,” he added.

SM Shahjahan, deputy director of Bangladesh Technical Education Board, also joined the event and said recruiters must develop a progression-ladder, showing entry position of a potential candidate and the end goal. This will discourage recruits to frequently opt for a job switch.

If trained people get preference during recruitment, it will help develop a training-oriented culture in the sector. Also, a person must be provided with a certificate after completing training, so that employers can judge skills while hiring, he added.

The event was moderated by Tasmiah Tabassum Rahman, head of business development and strategy (current in-charge) of Brac’s SDP.

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