3 years ago

Bangladesh sees 17m 'new poor', loses 3pc jobs during pandemic

Published :

Updated :

The Covid-19 pandemic has rendered about 3.0 per cent of the country's labour force jobless and created an estimated 16.38 million 'new poor', a study report has revealed.

Day-labourers, numbering about 1.08 million, working in construction, informal services and transport, lost jobs, it said.

On Saturday, the report predicted that small and medium enterprises and informal sector would face the highest number of job losses at the end of 2021.

The Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) and the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) conducted the joint study styled 'Impact of Covid-19 on the Labour Market: Policy Proposals for Trade Union on Employment, Gender and Social Security for Sustainable Recovery'.

The report, however, has laid emphasis on effective social dialogues aimed at ensuring the recovery of the labour market during this trying time.

The findings were disclosed at a virtual dialogue chaired by Syed Manzur Elahi, treasurer, CPD Board of Trustees and former adviser to a caretaker government.

CPD executive director Dr Fahmida Khatun and BILS executive director Nazrul Islam Khan made introductory remarks at the event.

Lack of communication is there among the owners, the workers and the government, said Mr Elahi, chairman of the Apex Group, adding that tripartite coordination is vital to reduce communication gap among stakeholders.

Underlining the importance of social dialogue, he said it was the responsibility of the government to organise a participatory social dialogue.

Terming a happy worker a good worker, Mr Manzur said, "How much productivity from a worker can be expected when he or she has to come to factories by walking three to five miles?"

Despite the fact that many factories do not have work orders up to 60 per cent and they are yet to receive payments, arranging transportation for workers is not a big deal, he said

CPD chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan said workers are taking much risk during the lockdown as they have to walk to factories. Their concerns should be given much attention.

He suggested that unions reach out workers to know whether factory managements are providing required safety and also about the safety situation at workers' dwelling places.

CPD research director Dr Khandaker Golam Moazzem in a keynote said workers' overall wages declined by 37 per cent. The decline was 42 per cent in Dhaka and 33 per cent in Chattogram, he said.

The fall in income and the rise in the incidence of poverty caused a generation of new poor by 16.38 million to join the second quarter of 2020, he added.

Different tripartite discussions and negotiations during this period ensured limited success in favour of workers and MSMEs regarding coping with the risks and recovery from the crisis, he said.

There are as many as 8,551 trade unions in the country. But unfortunately, the majority of workers are not unionised and only 4.2 per cent of the total labour force are active trade union members.

Trade unionism is active in a few sectors: transport (35.2 per cent of total workers involved in unionism), ready-made garment (11.6 per cent), construction (6.9 per cent) and jute (4.6 per cent).

"During the covid pandemic, trade union activities are largely reflected in these sectors," Mr Moazzem said, adding that such a segmented form of trade unionism was unable to address concerns of workers who are mostly un-unionised.

Workers' health and safety are in a vulnerable state due to the second wave of the pandemic. A tripartite discussion and a joint statement can ensure workers' interests through implementing long-term policies.

Trade unions in Bangladesh need to revisit their activities and engagements during the pandemic and take lessons from other countries, he said, suggesting that areas of future engagement be identified during the process of sustainable recovery.

Based on the national social safety-net strategies, trade unions need to identify various support measures for workers and their families, a food transfer programme, protection for disabilities and affordable healthcare.

Trade unions should focus on the world of work, particularly highlighting the workers of those who are organised and unorganised, Mr Moazzem suggested.

At the dialogue, labour secretary KM Abdus Salam said all stakeholders are heard with equal importance and monitoring is taking place regularly through 23 countrywide crisis management committees.

On April 15, the committees inspected 189 factories.

International Labour Organisation Bangladesh country director Tuomo Poutiainen accentuated the need for providing social safety net to labour in both formal and informal sectors.

He called for better utilisation of social dialogue mechanism not only in crisis period but also on a regular basis.

Emphasising continued social dialogue, parliamentarian Shirin Akhter, also BILS vice-chairman, called for increasing the number of enlisted organised labour.

Speaking at the dialogue, Garment Workers' Trade Union Center president Mantu Ghosh said transportation must be arranged for garment workers, especially in the areas of Dhaka, Gazipur, Chattogram and Narayanganj.

Workers are walking to and from their respective workplaces during the lockdown and owners are allegedly terminating workers for being late, he alleged.

He urged the government to shun the tendency to take the side of the owners in this crisis period.

BILS advisory council member Naimul Ahsan Jewel alleged that the crisis management committees were initially effective after their formation last year.

Equal participation must be ensured to get expected results through social dialogue, said National Garments Workers Federation president Amirul Haque Amin.

Some 50,000 workers, who earlier lost jobs, are yet to rejoin work, he said, demanding no cuts in wages and full payment of festival allowances ahead of Eid.

Mr Amin also pressed for full implementation of the ILO conventions of 97 and 98 and urged the government to ratify the convention related to violence against women.

Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation president Babul Akter alleged that 8,551 registered unions are not functional here.

Fifty-per cent garment factories having registered unions have no existence, he said, adding that only 100 unions are functional.

[email protected]

Share this news