Experts say the livelihood of 50 million working people in the informal sector is under threat due to Covid-19 outbreak
The econd wave of Covid-19 has again dealt a huge blow to the informal sector of Bangladesh when around 50 million people who work on a daily wage basis are unable to cope with the fallout caused by the pandemic.
Many marginalized people were unable to find work due to health risk as well as limited opportunities for work due to countrywide lockdown restrictions in almost every sector.
Bangladesh is observing the International Workers' Day on Friday at a time when the number of new poor in the country has been on the rise due to the pandemic.
According to the latest Labour Force Survey (2017) of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), 85% of the country's working people are employed in the informal sector. They have no job security and work on a daily wage basis.
About 69% of the employed populations in urban areas are in high-risk sectors – such as manufacturing, construction, transport, wholesale and retail trade, food and accommodation services and personal services – where the economy's share is 49%, according to a study conducted by Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS).
People losing jobs again
Hasimul Hossain Palash, 46, owned a shop before the pandemic. However, he had to sell the shop as he was unable to carry the expenses and bought a motorcycle in January this year.
He worked in a ride-sharing service to earn livelihood, but was unemployed again when the government suspended ride-sharing services during lockdown in a bid to stem the spread of Covid-19.
Palash said: “I had a shop that I bought on interest. I still have not been able to repay the money even after selling the shop. I used to earn Tk1,200 every day through ride-sharing services. Now I am completely unemployed. I have not been able to pay my house rent for 2 months.”
20% terminated RMG workers still unemployed
As many as 200,000 workers lost their jobs in June last year due to fall in production and exports caused by the pandemic.
Owners continued the production with 55% of the workers. Of them, 50,000 are still unemployed, BILS say.
Also Read - '3-fold rise in urban poverty due to Covid-19'
Sharmin Akhter, 21, has been working for two years at a ready-made garment factory at Konabari in Gazipur. Her father earned Tk8,000 and she earned Tk10,500 before she lost her job last month.
“My house rent is Tk5,000, but now I don't know how to run the family with my father's single income. About 100 workers including me were fired from our factory. The owner said there was no work.”
Amirul Haque Amin, general secretary of Jatio Sramik Federation, said: “Around 150,000 workers who lost jobs last year have managed a job at a different factory. Many of the unemployed female workers went back to the village and took jobs as domestic help. The boys who started work as day labourers lost their new jobs again.
“This year we haven’t heard about any announcements from the factory owners or the BGMEA about termination or pay cuts. But workers are being terminated.”
What the experts say
To bring balance to the informal sector, experts said that the government's social and security programs needed to be expanded. Even if there is no database, special aid should be delivered to the people through various trade unions.
“Every year on May 1, the issue of workers' rights and development comes up, but since last year, this day has seen nothing but a picture of vulnerable unstable life,” said Nazma Yesmin, director of BILS.
She said: “To keep the economics afloat, limited industrial, trade and production have been maintained. But the transportation sector has been restricted. Since the transport workers of our country still earn on a daily basis, they have become completely unemployed.”
As the construction works have stopped in many places, these labourers are sitting idle at home, according to the BILS director.
Dr Khandoker Golam Moazzem, additional research director of CPD, said: “If the pandemic continues for two to three more years and the government enforces lockdown a few more times, then hardworking people like rickshaw pullers, drivers, day laborers, agricultural laborers, shopkeepers and hawkers will become unemployed.”
The biggest challenge for the people in the informal sector is that there is no database to identify them, he says. “So they’re being deprived of the government benefits. They’re facing a new crisis even before recovering from the damage done by the first wave of the pandemic.”
Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment KM Abdus Salam and Assistant Secretary Md Shuzauddowla declined to make any comment when contacted.