Owners and workers of dried fish processing units in Cox’s Bazar have demanded emergency funds and other supports from both public and private sectors for their survival, to ease the possible impacts of coronavirus pandemic.
Mentioning that the production season of dried fish is from September to May, they said this is the peak time for the sector but due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the production has remained suspended for more than a month, reports BSS.
However, Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Cox’s Bazar district Md Kamal Hossain said the district administration has already distributed daily necessaries among the 40,000 wage-earners in Cox’s Bazar as the coronavirus outbreak rendered them jobless because of the ‘stay at home’ rule.
“We are collecting more data to identify the day labourers. Step by step, we want to bring all wage-earners under the government’s relief programme. Not only day labourers, we are also providing supports to the people who do not feel comfortable to stand in the line for relief,” he added.
Atikullah Sawdagor, president of the Najirartek Dried Fish Traders Cooperative Society, said, “Usually, we produce the lion’s share of dried fish during the last few months of the season. This year, the production has dropped to zero level in last one month for want of fish as the fishermen cannot catch fish for the prevailing locked-down situation. Fishermen are now afraid of going to sea. Moreover, we are now facing transportation crisis to bring fish from Chattagram,”
He mentioned that many of their orders were cancelled due to transportation problem, as they would not be able to deliver dried fish as per the schedule. “The owners and workers are now passing idle time. The loss of the Najirartek dried fish village is uncountable. It may be over Taka 1.00 billion,” he added.
He sought loan supports from the government at low interest rate to overcome the possible losses.
He informed that around 30,000 workers, with two-thirds women, are engaged in work in 1,040 dried fish processing units in the village and they are earning their livelihood.
“Most of the workers are working on daily wage basis. Just after one-and-a-half month time, they will become jobless as the rainy season is approaching fast. They are already jobless for over a month,” said Atikullah, also owner of Atikullah Enterprise and Maa Enterprise, expressing concern.
He urged the government to provide relief supports for the workers as they are now passing a miserable life.
Owner of Fatema Fish Sales Centre Md Imranul Hoq said the production at his unit has come down to nil due to coronavirus. “Around 15 to 20 workers work in my unit. Among them, I have appointed six workers for the whole season. So, I have to pay wages to them,” he added.
Jaynaz Khatun, a day labourer, said they are a five-member family with two daughters and one son. “My husband is also a day labourer. Through working at the dried fish processing unit, I earn Taka 350 to 400 daily and my husband earns Taka 400 to 500 daily. But due to coronavirus, we now are staying home for more than a month. Our savings has already been spent to run the family. Now we have no money to buy food for our children,” she added.
Another day labourer Alam said he is the only earning person for his five-member family. Due to the ongoing crisis, he is already facing financial crisis and sought immediate support from any sector.
Civic Engagement and Capacity Development Specialist of the CLIMB project Md Tanvir Sharif said the story is not only of Alamand Jaynaz Khatun, but also of every day labourer of the dried fish sector in the Cox’s Bazar.
He said some of the workers took loans from the owners last year and for that they also used their children as workers to repay the loans. This year, such kind of borrowers will face unbearable problem, as they cannot repay the loans, he added.