POST TIME: 2 April, 2020 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 2 April, 2020 12:07:20 AM
Corona fallout spells disaster for millions of poor Bangladeshis: Economists
UNB, Dhaka

Corona fallout spells disaster for millions of poor Bangladeshis: Economists

Though the restriction of movement and general holidays are helping the nation contain the spread of deadly coronavirus, economists fear it will have a huge adverse impact on the livelihoods of millions of people engaged in informal sector as their 'wages are disappearing'.

They said around 20 million people, involved in informal sector, have already become temporarily jobless as a fallout of coronavirus, putting a serious stress on the economy.

Rickshaw-pullers, transport workers, day-labourers, street-vendors, hawkers, the employees of hotels, restaurants and different shops, markets, construction workers and other informal workers are the worst victims of the halt in economic activity as they have lost their means to earn bread and butter.  

The economists appreciated the government's quick steps to provide food aids to the affected people, and said effective plans and strategies should also be worked out to help the jobless people return to their work once normalcy is restored.  According to the Labour Force Survey-2017, around 60.8 million people were in various employment or engaged in economic activity while the informal employment was dominating as 85.1 percent of the employed population engaged in the country's informal employment. The contribution of informal jobs to urban areas was 13.1 million while 38.6 million in rural areas.

Contacted, Prof Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said business and employment are confronting the adverse impact of the shutdown of the economic activities. "A large portion of our labour force involved in service sector who do not get monthly salary are badly affected by the coronavirus shutdown," he observed.

Of the total 60.8 million people employed in various ways both in formal and informal sectors, Dr Mustafiz said 14 million people get monthly salary from their employers while over a 10 million are day-labourers wo get daily wages based on their work.  Besides, he said, 27 million people are self-employed like hawkers, street vendors, and small businessmen like grocery and other shop owners.

"An overwhelming majority of the country's 37 million labour forces--self-employed ones and day labourers--have become temporarily jobless and they've no earning," Dr Mustafiz said.

The noted economist said this big number of people will remain jobless until the economic activities resume and things come into order.  He said around 50,000 people go abroad from Bangladesh for jobs every month. "But new migrant workers couldn't go abroad in the last two months. Perhaps, they won't be able to go in the next few months, too. Besides, the migrant workers who already returned home in the face of coronavirus impact may add to the growing unemployment rolls."

Under the circumstances, the economist said, social safety net must be widened further with adequate allocation while OMS activities in cities should be strengthened to mitigate the sufferings of the unemployed people.

The government should also make proper action plans so that the affected people in the informal sector can resume business and the jobless people can engage in economic activity once the situation gets normal.  Dr Shamsul Alam, senior secretary and member of the General Economics Division (GED) of the Bangladesh Planning Commission, said the unemployment rate in country is fueling, and it will take a serious turn in the future due to the coronavirus impact.

"Some 85 percent workforce is involved in informal sector which is hit hard by the coronavirus shutdown. People working in this sector are losing their incomes for lack of economic activities," he observed.

The Ekushey Padak-2020 recipient urged the NGOs and rich people to come forward to help the affected the people alongside the government.

Executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI) Dr Ahsan H Mansur said officially there are around 4 percent unemployment in the country, but it is not the real figure.

"The unemployment situation will be awful in the near future in the country. Around 25 lakh people are involved only in the services sector like hotels, restaurants and resorts. Around 70-80 lakh people are involved in small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) sector while there are around 45 lakh workers in the RGM sector. Many of the workforces have already become temporarily jobless while many others are at the risk of losing jobs due to the coronavirus shutdown," he added.

Dr Ahsan said the employment of RMG workers depend on foreign buyers. "But now foreign buyers are cancelling their orders one after another. So, employment in the RMG sector is now at risk."  

According to Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) data released on March 31, 1048 factories reported 907.14 million pcs worth $2.87 billion export cancelled/ held up.  "There's a chance that many SME workers will be laid off if the government doesn't financially support the entrepreneurs and the public holidays are extended further," the PRI executive director said.