Their days pass without work | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 04, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:52 AM, July 04, 2020

Their days pass without work

Daily wage earners in the capital hit hard in pandemic

The continuous spread of Covid-19 and the consequent shutdown have made jobs rare and life harder for many daily wage earners of the capital.

Day labourers usually gather at certain spots of the city and wait to be hired mostly for contractual jobs. Since the pandemic began, their waiting time has become excruciatingly long.

Visiting one of these spots in Mirpur-11 near Purobi cinema hall one recent morning, some 300 men and women were seen waiting for work. Most had a shovel and a basket with them.

Before the pandemic, most labourers would get hired by noon. Now, days pass by without any work, they said.

"During the first two months of the shutdown, I did not get a single contract. Since last month, I started to get work once or twice a week. But, that too is uncertain," said Shariul Islam, a 35-year-old mason.

"For a day's work, I used to earn Tk 700 to Tk 800. But, nowadays, I never bargain. I agree to whatever wage is offered," he said.

Shariful, who lives in Mirpur in a rented quarter with his wife and 18-month-old child, said he spends the whole day at the gathering spot.

"What is the use of returning home when you cannot feed your family and pay the landlord? All of us have unpaid house rent for more than two months," he added.

Jahanara Begum, 55, sometimes works as a maid and sometimes as a construction worker on a contractual basis.

She said work at households has almost disappeared as many houses have restricted entry of outsiders.

Sanitary workers and electricians are facing the same problem, she added.

After the countrywide shutdown ended on May 31, day labourers expected to get jobs again. But the work situation did not improve.

"We heard that the disease is spreading. There will be red zones and yellow zones in Dhaka and in these zones there will be lockdown again. So far, we are not seeing any improvement," said Nazrul Islam, a sanitary worker.

"If the government does not help us by giving jobs or relief, we shall starve to death in the future," he added.

Almost all the workers claimed that they did not receive any government support since the pandemic hit the country.

Construction worker Mazeda Begum, 50, said a couple of men from Roopnagar residential area, where she lives, took her family's particulars including NID and phone numbers at least six or seven times in the last three months, mentioning relief. However, they never got back.

"Before Eid-ul-Fitr, we received some special food like vermicelli from different people, occasionally. That too has stopped after Eid," she said.

Though the government declared many stimulus packages for different industries and sectors, there has been no special allocation for the urban poor or the informal sector workers. 

 "At present, we don't have any fund to help the daily wage earners. I think the current crisis is temporary. Gradually, they will all be able to get back to their work, once we get back to normalcy. Since the lockdown has been relaxed, many of them are now getting contracts," KM Abdus Salam, secretary of the ministry of labour and employment, told The Daily Star on July 1.

"Employment of informal sector workers is ensured by various ministries but sometimes there are lack of coordination and poor management. We are trying to establish an employment directorate under our ministry so that we can work on their employment in a coordinated way," he said.

There are 48 million informal jobs in the country, according to the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training, and informal sector workers constitute 87 percent of the country's total labour force, as per the International Labour Organization.

Bangladesh Labour Force Survey published in 2017 showed daily wage earners contribute 45 percent of the country's GDP.

Yet, these workers are not recognised under the Labour Act, 2006. Thus, they are not covered by minimum wage, receive no compensation in case of any workplace accident and have no job security or pension after retirement.   


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