• Thursday, Dec 02, 2021
  • Last Update : 04:13 pm

Lockdown, a looming fear for bus workers

  • Published at 11:00 pm August 18th, 2021
End of lockdown
Dhaka is back to its old form - packed with crowd and traffic - as the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown has been lifted. The photo was taken in the city's Jatrabari area, on the morning of Wednesday, August 11, 2021 Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Bus owners demand a tax refund from the government

During the 19-day lockdown before August 9, bus workers suffered a lot due to an absence of income.

Since August 9, the government has allowed half of the total number of public vehicles to operate while carrying passengers at full capacity. All vehicles will be allowed to run from August 19, according to a notice on August 12.

Now bus owners and workers fear whether another lockdown will be imposed by the government.

Mohammad Billal Hossain, a helper of a local bus. said he had spent all his savings to survive in this city along with his family.

"If the government implements a long lockdown like this again and wants us to stay home, it should give us work first so that we can bear all our expenses," he added.

"If we work, we get money. If the situation continues like this, we have to die of hunger. For the last 19 days, my income has been zero as I have not learned to do any other work," said another helper of the bus “Dewan.”

Ahad Munshi, a supervisor of Trust Transport said: “I'm living in such a condition where I cannot beg for money and cannot tolerate this kind of poverty.”

"Our income is day-based. If we can work for a month, then we earn around Tk 10,000, but during this lockdown, I didn't earn a single penny. But as my father is a retired army person, I have just survived somehow with his financial support," he further said.

Saiful Islam Babu, another supervisor who narrated the same situation, urged the government not to implement any kind of lockdown.

Did anyone help them?

Local bus drivers and other workers said that there were dozens of committees in their names but no one had helped them with a single penny during this terrible situation.

"Those are just eyewash. In the last week, almost 2,500 drivers gathered at Gulistan because the federation leaders told us that we would get relief. We were waiting there from 6am to 2pm and then they came and tried to distribute only 5kg of rice. Did we go there only for this 5kg of rice?" said Mohammad Apon, a driver of Trust Transport.

This driver said that drivers gave Tk120 subscription money every month to their federation, Motor Sromik Federation, but the federation had not helped them.

However,  inter-district bus drivers said that their federation - where they give only Tk20 per month- had helped them during their crisis for one and a half years.

"I've been working at Ena Transport for almost 10 years but I did not have to find any alternative work when the transport was off. Our union and owner gave financial aid during this time and that is why I survived," said Md Liton.

Buses wait in long queues at the Daulatdia ferry terminal in Rajbari as people return to Dhaka to join their respective workplaces, on Wednesday, August 2021 | Dhaka Tribune

Md Saiful Islam Khan, member of Dhaka District Bus-Minibus Road Transport Workers' Union, said: “We helped workers during this pandemic. Besides, we give at least Tk50,000 for those who die because of accidents and we also bear their funeral costs.”

Besides, the Ena Transport authorities said that they had given out Tk1 crore among helpers and drivers across the country for one and a half years, and the permanent staff had got 50% of their salaries during the closure.

Income per day

A local bus driver gets Tk800 and a helper gets Tk400 if they can earn Tk10,000 in a day.

There are a few local buses in this city which allow the driver, helper and supervisor to rent those from the owner for a long day by paying Tk1500-2000 and they can then divide the rest of the earnings among themselves.

In both cases, a lack of passengers would also mean a lack of income.

These bus drivers are usually recruited from various types of workers' unions or federations and sometimes they come along with their CVs and then the companies check their fitness, NIDs and driving skills.

Here, the authorities of Trust Transport said that most of the drivers had left their jobs or gone to their villages during this lockdown.

What the owners say

Md Abul Kalam, president of Mohakhali Bus Terminal Sarak Paribahan Malik Samiti, believes that the government will not be able to control the Covid-19 transmission by stopping transport again, rather “Human Touch” will be increased more.

"If there remains one seat but four passengers fight to get that seat, then what will the government do?" he questioned.

He has also demanded that the advance tax which is already paid to the government be refunded or adjusted with next year's tax.

"In the last 17 months, transports were closed for more than six months but we paid all the taxes for the year in advance as per rules. The government takes this tax to facilitate our work but how are we being facilitated during the closure?" he further asked.

Khandaker Enayet Ullah, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, said: "After Eid, the government announced a lockdown, and transports were closed. People came to Dhaka in a state of desperation. Did that lockdown reduce the coronavirus transmission rate?" he questioned.

He also said: "All the buses will run from August 19, which is a good decision for our sake as well as that of the workers."

Syed Md Atikul Islam, General Manager of Ena Transport Limited, said: “We need to spend at least Tk5 crore every month to maintain this company and if this situation continues, it will be tough for us as we are burdened with bank loans.”

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