Informal sector workers hard hit by coronavirus shutdown

Zahid Hossain was among a dozen of ridesharing bikers looking for passengers at the Gulistan square in the capital on Saturday.

The square, a bustling city point, turned into almost a deserted place after a 10-day shutdown was enforced in the country to combat the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) from March 26.

But Zahid was not lucky enough to get a passenger in the noon even after a two-hour-long wait there for lack of passengers.

‘I’m undone…I couldn’t afford to stay at home for the third day as I must earn to maintain my four-member family,’ said Zahid, one of the city’s thousands of ridesharing service providers.

Not only the ridesharing service providers but also the millions of rickshaw pullers, hawkers, vendors, transport workers, day lobourers, factory workers of the urban areas in the country living a hand-to-mouth existence are in peril due to the ‘sudden halt’.

Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies director general Khan Ahmed Sayeed Murshid said that such a situation was inevitable since more than 80 per cent of the country’s workforce were engaged in informal sectors.

Something should be done for them as many urban poor are not in a position to go back to village and take assistance from the social safety programmes, he said.

He said that the government should quickly come up with a mechanism to help the urban poor as the Indian government announced stimulus packages for big cities.

The Bangladesh government has announced subsidised rice for the destitute in villages and offered a Tk 5,000-crore support package for the readymade garment workers — but nothing for the urban poor.

Power and Participation Research Centre executive chairman Hossain Zillur Rahman said that the government should determine the type of financial incentive or policy support required for the people in the face of a potential economic crisis.

According to him, people earning their livelihood based on internal demand in cities and villages would be the largest affected group because of the COVID-19 fallout.

The Asian Development Bank has projected that the Bangladesh economy might lose 1.10 per cent of its GDP, or $ 3.02 billion, in addition to the job losses of 8.95 lakh people due to the virus outbreak.

Close to 40 million people, or a one-fourth of the country’s population, live below the poverty line, according to government statistics.

But the World Bank in its ‘Bangladesh Poverty Assessment’ report released in October 2019 stated that more than half the country’s population who maintained their consumption close to the poverty threshold of $1.9 could be relegated below the poverty line due to economic shocks.

Economic analyst and former caretaker government Mirza Azizul Islam said that there was no doubt that the country’s poverty reduction rate would be badly affected as the manufacturing sector as well as most of the service sector was shut.

For a 52-year old rickshaw puller, Julfikar Ali, at Tejgaon, it has become very difficult to earn even a one-fourth his normal daily income of around Tk 1,000 since the shutdown was announced.

Aslam Miah, a fruit seller at Farmgate, said that he could not leave Dhaka because of the fruits in his stock, now rotting in the absence of buyers.

A cross-section of people said that they had experienced long breaks in their earnings due to political unrests in 2014 and 2007 but the present situation was unprecedented and it forced them to live on their hard-earned savings or borrowing.

Left-leaning parties, including Ganosamhati Andolan, Left Democratic Alliance, Socialists Party of Bangladesh and Bangladesh Krishak Samity, have already demanded rations at the level of union in rural areas and ward in urban localities.

They also demanded relief and cash assistances for the poor for six months so that they could have food during the present ‘lockdown’. (Source: New Age)

Leave a Reply