Corona Pandemic and the Workers

M Zahidul Haque
DURING this Corona pandemic if one asks a worker-“How are you doing in this corona pandemic?” One would get a common reply with a set of problems—“Not so well; not yet received salary, under landlord’s pressure for paying the house rent, having difficulties to make ends meet!”In Bangladesh, workers serving in both formal and informal sectors are passing through an uncertain time during this corona pandemic. Their income has been reduced drastically and so is the food intake. In the case of ready-made garment industries, the bulk of global orders have been cancelled by buyers. Only a few fortunate ones having valid orders are still in operation. Majority of the garment owners are yet to clear workers’ salaries.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has sought a 2-year duty-free access for its ready-made garment products to the United States so that Bangladesh can cover up the losses due to the cancellation of global orders on account of corona pandemic and save her major export-earning and employment sector from utter ruination. It is expected that the United States would grant duty-free market access privilege to Bangladesh ready-made garment products considering the hard and tough situation the Bangladeshi garments workers have fallen into upholding the friendly relations existing between the two countries.
Another important formal sector is migrant Bangladeshi workers who are working in different parts of the globe including the Middle East. As an impact of corona pandemic, some countries including those in the Middle East are thinking to send them back. The Government of Bangladesh has intensified diplomatic efforts so that our workers can continue working in those countries plus they could be rehabilitated inside the country by offering various stimulus packages.
Now let us throw some light on the plight of another non-formal workers’ sector, i.e. the Domestic Workers whom we popularly call maid, domestic help etc. The domestic workers are an important working class in urban areas. Many women and girls are working as domestic workers in exchange for a meagre monthly salary and some food. Most of these workers have lost their job due to corona pandemic. They have been discharged and asked to stay in their respective homes following the imposition of restrictions due to COVID-19 lockdown. Even now that lockdown has been relaxed up to some extent but most flat residents are not allowing them to return to their work on the fear of contagion of COVID-19. These workers are in hardship with no income; in some cases, their earning male family members have also lost their job.
A huge number of rickshaw-pullers, van-drivers are earning their livelihood ignoring the risk of getting infected by coronavirus. There are many more workers such as, restaurant workers, transport workers, construction workers and day labourers who have been badly affected by the corona pandemic. One particular workers’ group is urging the authority to re-open beauty parlours and salons.
But I think, some sort of policy to disinfect and sterilize their compound and tools need to be framed for this particular sector and such protective measures are to be maintained even after reopening of these establishments.
To mitigating the sufferings of the common citizens and workers, the Government have been distributing foods and other daily essentials among the needy people and trying to make relief materials to the doorstep of all the people. As a part of wishing, ‘Eid Greetings’ Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has launched a program to present Tk 2500/- to fifty lakh working citizens living in different parts of Bangladesh. To encountering the impact of corona pandemic, the Government has announced a number of stimulus packages. Now efficient management and supervision is required to ensuring that the right people get benefitted through these stimulus packages.
(The author is a professor in the department of agricultural extension and information system, Sher-e- Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka)