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Dhaka Tribune

1.08m informal workers lose jobs amid Covid-19 pandemic

CPD-BILS study also says segmented trade union activities unable to address workers' concerns

Update : 17 Apr 2021, 03:25 PM

The urban informal sector lost about 1.08 million jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which was over 8% of total urban employment at the level of 2016-17, a study revealed on Saturday.

Around 6.7% jobs were lost in the urban informal economy, which included day labourers mainly working in construction, informal services and transport workers (e.g. private car drivers, rickshaw pullers, launch and boat drivers.)

The information was given at a presentation and virtual dialogue titled "Recovery of the Labour Market during Covid-19: Role of Trade Union", jointly organized by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), and Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS.)

During a virtual dialogue on the day, experts said that trade union policy and strategies should focus on the world of work, particularly highlighting the workers of those who are organized and unorganized.

However, Bangladesh's trade unions have limited scope for being functional, as its activities either stalled or declined in different sectors and a lack of cooperation from the government and/or factory owners hindered its operations.

Official decisions were also taken without much consultation and discussion with workers; rather, those were enforced through official announcements.

The majority of workers are not unionized in the country – only 4.2% of the total labour force are active trade union members, despite as many as 8551 trade unions operating in Bangladesh.

That is why trade unions need to revisit their strategies, approaches and activities while formulating future policies and strategies, CPD opined.

They also demanded that given the crisis caused major damage to workers, who are unorganized and work under different informal sectors, trade unions should prioritize their issues.

A number of policy issues have implications and impact on workers and the world of work indirectly, such as macroeconomic and fiscal measures mentioned in the 8th FYP and National Jobs Strategy.

Trade unions need to take an interest in these issues and ensure their deeper understanding of related issues, the think-tank also suggested.

The dialogue aimed at revisiting the role of trade unions in Bangladesh during the pandemic period to identify a set of policy proposals for influencing the process of sustainable recovery of the labour market.

The labour market mostly consists of various worker groups, including regular, temporary, and casual workers, as well as small-scale employers, particularly those self-employed and involved in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), retailing, construction, road, commerce, tourism, and other informal sectors.

Rebounding and recovery of the world of work, particularly those of workers and employers, have been supported mainly by different public policies and interventions, said Fahmida Khatun, executive director of CPD, and Nazrul Islam Khan, secretary general and executive director of BILS, during their opening remark.

Different tripartite discussions and negotiations undertaken during this crisis period had ensured limited success in favour of workers and MSMEs, to cope with the risks, rebounding and recovery from the crisis, said Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of CPD.

Based on the national social safety net strategies, trade unions need to identify various support measures required for workers and their families under the provisions of social security for the working-age people, socially excluded groups, a food transfer programme, protection for disabilities and affordable healthcare, he also said.

The government should focus on providing social safety net to labours in both formal and informal sectors, said Tuomo Poutiainen, country director of International Labour Organization (ILO) office in Dhaka.

Shirin Akhter, MP and member of the parliamentary standing committee on primary and mass education, called for increasing the number of enlisted organized labours.

Tripartite coordination is vital to reduce communication gap among stakeholders, said Syed Manzur Elahi, chairman at Apex Group, former adviser to the caretaker government and treasurer of CPD.

He opined that it is the responsibility of the government to organize participatory social dialogue.

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