It is concerning to know that more than three percent of the labour force have lost jobs and around 16.38 million people have become newly poor during the ongoing pandemic. This is according to a study titled "Recovery of The Labour Market during Covid-19: Role of Trade Union" published recently by the Center for Policy Dialogue. The Small and Medium Enterprises and the informal sector experienced most of the job cuts, and women-led enterprises have been left more vulnerable as 50 percent of them had to lay off 76-100 percent of their workforce due to financial losses.
The study mentions manufacturing, construction, transport, wholesale and retail businesses, food, accommodation services and personal services as sectors facing the highest economic risks while sectors like finance, domestic service, real estate and education as the ones facing medium risks. Around 69 percent of the employed population in urban areas have become victims of the financial downturn caused by the Covid-19 crisis, most are either labourers or self-employed. More shocking is the fact that regular wages of the workers have declined by 42 percent in Dhaka and 33 percent in Chattogram region, respectively. How will these workers feed themselves and their families?
As we know, even though the government rolled out a stimulus package worth Tk 20,000 crore, mainly targeting the SMEs soon after the pandemic started, a large portion of this remained unutilised as majority of these business entities did not have access to formal banking channels. Later, the government issued another stimulus package amounting to Tk 1,258 crore with a view to provide emergency monetary assistance to 50 lakh destitute families. But, disbursement of the fund stopped midway facing allegations of anomalies; the government had to remove a staggering 14.32 lakh families from its list of possible beneficiaries. A Prothom Alo report published on April 11, 2021 shows that the European Union and the German government had jointly donated Tk 1,135 crore to provide financial assistance to the workers who had lost their jobs during the lockdown period. The government also contributed a significant sum to this fund and created another package worth Tk 1,500 crore. Although the process of disbursing the money started in October last year, in the last six months, only Tk 5 crore have been provided to the affected workers. It is unacceptable that although the government has given the funds for this emergency situation, they are not reaching those who need it most. We are baffled that this problem has not been solved as yet and urge the government to immediately remove the bottlenecks and ensure that the poorest beneficiaries receive the financial assistance first.
Last year's obstacles in proper distribution included corruption and mismanagement during the implementation periods. This has to be stopped at all costs through efficient monitoring and accountability of those involved in reaching the financial assistance to the beneficiaries. With more numbers being added to the new poor category, the government must not lose any more time and along with emergency cash relief devise long-lasting income-generating opportunities for these people who have suddenly become jobless.