The demand for extending the age limit for government job entry has been brewing for a long time. Thanks to the colonial legacy of Bangladesh’s administration, the disproportionately empowered bureaucracy of this country has the scope to practice power, and therefore there exists a craze to join the bureaucracy or any other government job. On the other hand, government jobs offer financial security. But this over-enthusiasm to join public service has resulted in an ever-increasing number of appearances in the BCS examination, fourfolds in 15 years to be exact. However, upgrading the pay scale of 9th grade government officers’ initial payment for the most sought-after government jobs in 2015 from 11,000 to 22,000, almost double the previous scale, has some contribution to that.
This over-enthusiasm to join government service has also somewhat contributed to demotivating some of the university students to not develop any soft skills or take entrepreneurial initiatives. There can be debate over the assessment of government job recruitment and the limited scope it keeps for evaluating one’s soft skills. Regardless of that, this over-enthusiasm contributes to increasing unemployment due to government employment being quite scarce. But is imposing age restrictions on government service entry a solution to that? There have to be other considerations, like availing optimum service from the personnel recruited. At the onset of the discussion, let’s have a look at the stance the current government took on this matter.
The visible confusion
On January 31, 2012, the then-speaker of Parliament, departing President Abdul Hamid, suggested raising the age restriction for government employment candidates from 30 to 35. Six years later, in its election platform for the 2018 general election, the ruling Awami League pledged to take action based on realistic considerations. In 2018, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Public Administration recommended that the age restriction be raised from 30 to 35. Despite the fact that the public administration standing committee discussed the subject three times in Parliament in 2018, it has not yet been implemented.
considering the fact that the government provides a quite good amount of pension and gratuity for the service of government employees at the end of their service life, optimum service should be availed of from them before they retire. On the other hand, recruited personnel have to be trained for service, which is a gruesome process for both the government and the service holders. Therefore, availing optimum service from the recruited personnel is a prime concern. According to this rationale, we have seen the entry barriers for government service increase with the increase in average life expectancy. When average life expectancy was 45 years, the age limit for entry into government jobs was 27 years. When life expectancy increased to 50 years, the age limit also increased to 30 years. And now that the average life expectancy is 72 years, the age limit should be raised due to the fact that even if someone enters service at the age of 35, they might be able to serve the taxpayers long enough. Yet another consideration related to this is the age of retirement, which increased from 57 years to 59 years in 2011 during the first term of the current Awami League government. Therefore, it is contradictory to not increase the age limit for government job entry.
due to the lag caused by COVID-19 in the academic life of students, the Ministry of Public Administration released a circular on September 25, 2022, confirming that the age limit for applying for government jobs other than BCS has been extended by 39 months for applicants who have reached the age of 30 between March 25, 2020, and March 25, 2022.
March, 2023. This circular accepts that COVID has caused people to delay their graduation, and therefore the age limit should be extended. But COVID has not only affected the academics of those who reached the age of 30 between March 25th, 2020, and 2023, but also the ones born after them. The ones who studied at the university freshmen year in 2020 were mostly aged between 18 and 20 years during COVID, and their graduation also got delayed. Even the ones who studied at schools during COVID have also delayed their academic lives to some extent.
On the other hand, the person whose 30th birthday was on March 25, 2020, had already finished graduation without delay. Why has the age limit been increased for a few people who did not have to delay academic life due to the pandemic without increasing the age limit for all these people whose academic life got delayed? Where is the consistency in policymaking in this case?
Thirdly, looking at the world around us, we may get an idea of how other countries are doing in this regard. Indians can join government jobs even at the age of 40. US citizens can apply for federal jobs at the age of 34–37. Such strict age restrictions for government job entry do not exist in any developed country in the world. If the concern is not availing a person of enough service before providing them pension and gratuity, the government already has a policy of 25 years’ service in order to be eligible for the entire amount of government pension, which already eliminates the concern.
Finally, even if there is no other argument, it’s principally unfair to restrict individuals’ ability to serve their state if they want at any age. A huge underprivileged population of Bangladesh comes from poor families and might have gaps in their academic lives due to financial instability before they are finally able to graduate, which is a requirement for most government jobs. In an era when Bangladesh has ensured outstanding progress in women’s empowerment, keeping in mind the ease with which women can apply for these jobs is important as well. They often have to sacrifice a significant portion of their lives for their family. In our reality, a lot of women still get married before graduation. In a lot of cases, they often have to take maternity leave, pregnancy leave, etc. This affects their career adversely, especially if they are willing to apply for government jobs. Hence, extending the upper age limit for government job entry is crucial for women.
Even if you agree to sacrifice the principle that women and underprivileged people should have increased access to government services, you cannot sacrifice the Constitution of Bangladesh. The fundamental rights of the people of Bangladesh have been guaranteed in Part III (Article 26–47) of the constitution of Bangladesh. All past laws inconsistent with these rights are made void by the Constitution, which directs the state not to make any law inconsistent with these rights. Article 29 of the Constitution
guaranteed the fundamental right of “equality of opportunity in public employment.” Article 29 (1) states, “There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in respect of employment or office in the service of the Republic.” Article 29 (2) adds, “No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office in the service of the Republic.” Even if the age limit does not create any visible discrimination, in the reality of Bangladesh, it does somewhat limit
the scope of joining government service for people of a specific gender. Whether it violates the Constitution or not is subject to the interpretation of the Supreme Court. However, what if the protestors who posted a poster demanding an age limit extension end up taking it to court? That could be one way to solve the dilemma policymakers are facing, if not the most desired one.
Why not extend?
Arguments exist on both sides in such matters. It is only when the merits and demerits of both sides are considered that we can truly figure out the policy that serves the public interest most. Let’s have a look at what arguments one can have in support of not extending the age limit for government service entry.
Firstly, an increase in the age requirement will lead to an increase in the number of applicants, which is already a trend. As discussed previously, overenthusiasm to join government service has its own drawbacks for the economy as a whole. If someone has been preparing for job assessment for a long time, then the new entrants might not be able to compete with them, and therefore, the level playing field will be somewhat compromised. However, if a person can join government service at a later age as well, will that affect people’s thinking patterns? Will they stop preparing for government job exams in their freshman year and focus on developing other skills as well? One might think that the option to join government service exists if they cannot succeed in anything else and therefore venture into alternative career options. But whether one will do so depends on a lot of other factors.
Secondly, one might argue that session jams are no longer there. But recall what we argued in favor of extending the age limit. COVID complications have affected not only a few batches but a whole generation. Public universities are still recovering from the delay caused by COVID.
Thirdly, it can be argued that the number of vacancies has decreased due to the extension of the retirement age from 57 to 59 years. But that has nothing to do with the age limit because a reduced number of vacancies only leads to fewer recruitments. Principally, the number of vacancies is not related to the eligibility of the application. Rather, tightening the eligibility of applications due to fewer vacancies would be a convenient but inconsiderate and principally unjustified action.
Where to draw the conclusion?
There are considerations to be made on both sides, and they have been proposed and discussed by the parliament more than once. But the unprecedented COVID-19 has raised the urgency of taking action. So far, the government has extended the age limit by 39 months for people reaching the age of 30 between March 25th, 2020, and 2023. But is that enough? That has to be the discussion right now, and proper action has to be taken soon enough because, regardless of appropriateness, a delayed decision will not be of much use.
This editorial is written by The Confluence Editorial Team.