A report in this paper yesterday highlighted the grim reality faced by day labourers as they wait indefinitely for jobs to come their way. Their lives have become acutely harder with the spread of Covid-19, leading to shutdowns and employment opportunities dwindling close to zero. Scenes of worried daily labourers gathering at various spots in the city, waiting to be hired and failing to get a job, have become common. Without these jobs, these labourers face going hungry with their families and possible eviction from their homes as they continue to pay the rent. Along with day labourers are rickshaw pullers, electricians, sanitary workers, hawkers and many others, who are now without any means to earn.
These are worrying signs and the government must take cognisance of a crisis that is already unfolding—the crisis of hunger among an increasing number of poor who have become poorer.
According to the report, many workers said they did not receive any government support since the outbreak of the pandemic. One worker said two individuals came to her home and collected the NID and phone numbers of her and her family members at least seven times over the last three months, claiming that this was for relief, but no such relief ever came. The secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment has said that there is no separate fund to help day labourers and that as shutdowns are relaxed, they will soon find jobs. But what happens till then? How are these day labourers and others in the informal sector supposed to feed themselves and their families? How will they pay the rent?
We are faced with a dire situation. Day labourers and many in the informal sector are the hardest hit by the economic fallout of the pandemic. Economists have pointed out that the pandemic has resulted in an increase in the number of urban poor who must now be included in social safety net programmes. Apart from targeting these new poor as well as those who were already poor, the government must make sure that the budget allocations are distributed properly.
The authorities must make accurate lists of these people and provide food and cash relief for them until jobs are available again. This means enforcing the zero tolerance policy for irregularities that so often end up sabotaging all relief efforts.