Representative of government, employers, trade union and civil society organisation representative call for protection of employment by incorporating social security in national strategic planning through tripartite consensus. Speakers expressed this opinion on a webinar titled “Impact on Employment and Vulnerability of Workers with Special Focus on Formal and Informal types of Workers: A Pathway towards an Inclusive and Sustainable Way Forward”. Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies-BILS organised the webinar on July 20, 2020.
The webinar was organised to comparative review of the effects and vulnerabilities of COVID-19 on the livelihoods of formal and informal sectors workers; deficit analysis of policies formulated on related issues; considering the current situation, take the recommendations for what to do to protect the livelihood of the working people.
BILS Chairman Md. Habibur Rahman Shiraz chaired the webinar, while Secretary General and Executive Director Nazrul Islam Khan acted as a Moderator. Former Employment Sector Special Advisor of ILO, Geneva Dr. Rezwanul Islam presented the key-note paper. Country Director of ILO Bangladesh Tuomo Poutiainen spoke as a key note speaker. Member of the Parliamentary Standing committee on Ministry of Primary and Mass Education and BILS Vice Chairperson Shirin Akhter, MP, Senior Research Fellow of BIDS Dr. Nazneen Ahmed, Workers Specialist of Decent Work Technical Team at ILO South Asia Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmmed, Professor of the Institute of Bangladesh Studies at Rajshahi University Dr. Jakir Hossain, BGMEA Director Professor Mohammad Abdul Momen, Bangladesh Employers Federation Secretary General Farooq Ahmed, Jatiya Sramik League General Secretary K M Azam Khasru, Tannery Workers Union President Abul Kalam Azad, Bangladesh Supreme Court Lawyer and Labour law specialist Advocate Dr. Uttam Kumar Das spoke as special discussants.
In the key-note paper Rizwanul Islam Said, health crisis caused by COVID-19 has now been turned into an economic crisis, while the economic crisis has turned into a livelihood crisis and is rapidly beginning to affect the labour market. He noted that workers who work in urban areas are most at risk. He also added that most of the workers working in the informal sector and on a daily wage basis are at risk with their livelihoods.
He added that, there would be a decline in production, a drop in employment and a drop in demand, which would lead to causes in disaster in the economy. In the international arena, employment may decline further due to declining demand in export-oriented industries and expatriate labour markets. Over 1 crore workers who depend on daily wages will lose their jobs. Over 2 crore workers, both formal and informal, will lose their jobs.
He further said that the government of Bangladesh has announced various incentive packages to address the situation and has taken various initiatives including providing direct financial assistance to the workers and allocating funds for the agricultural sector. However, appropriate planning is needed to address this crisis of livelihood. He said urgent and medium term plans need to be taken to secure employment. For this, it is important to adopt a national strategy and add social security to it.
Speaking as the keynote speaker, ILO Country Director Tuomo Poutiainen said all parties need to work together to rebuild the sectors of the labour market that will be affected by the impact of COVID-19 on the global supply chain. The future labour market needs to be restructured with a view to export oriented industries. For this, a databank with the latest and accurate information of the labour market is required. He said a national consensus needs to be built between workers, employers and the government to ensure safe workplaces.
BIDS Senior Research Fellow Dr. Nazneen Ahmed said, some ready-made garment industries have suffered due to late payment by brand buyers. However, that may not be a big reason for the wages or job cuts of the workers. The government may consider whether it is possible to provide low-cost loans to low-income people using Bkash, Rockets, etc. Many small businesses can turn around if they get a loan. There are a large number of female domestic workers among those who are losing their jobs. It is necessary to make a list mentioning their skills. At the same time, besides developing the skills of the workers, it is also necessary to provide capital.
BGMEA Director Prof. Mohammad Abdul Momen said, BGMEA was paid in March for the incentives given by the government. But the loans given by those banks ended with two months’ salary. The subsequent loan was disbursed in some cases as several factories could not accept the loan. Salary has been paid from April to June. 24 lakh workers have been paid through mobile banking. “We now have to think about diversity in backward linkages,” he said. Many workers will lose their jobs due to automation, which has been happening since before Covid-19. However, he also mentioned that we have to think about what to do in this regard.
Shirin Akhtar, MP, said accurate labour market statistics are essential in the Covid-19 situation. At the same time, it is necessary to monitor the government incentives given to solve the problem are reaching the right people.
Bangladesh Employers Federation Secretary General Farooq Ahmed said, that despite regular participation in the discussions, no specific follow-up is being observed from the policy making stage. At this point we need to identify the challenges correctly. No employer consciously wants to lay off workers, commenting that they are compelled by circumstances. He emphasized on focusing short-term and long-term skills development and restructuring as well as self-employment.
Referring to the job loss miserable of informal sector workers in the Covid-19 situation, K M Azam Khasru said, “In the current situation, people’s lives must be saved first.” He mentioned that need to restructure the labour sector in the country’s health sector.
Dr. Zakir Hossain said that the effect of unemployment has started to be felt in all cases. In the current situation, it is important to sustain inclusive growth and development.
Uttam Kumar Das said there are no guidelines in the labour law to deal with the pandemic. Due to the lack of guidance from the Ministry of Labour in this regard, there is a dilemma about opening and closing the garments. He remarked that the incentives given by the government for the workers could be kept in a separate fund without leaving it to the employers.
Abul Kalam Azad said that it is very inhumane to lay off workers during COVID-19. The laid off workers are living a very inhuman life. Noting that many employers do not follow the government’s decision, he said many workers have been unfairly laid off. He also complained that many organizations were paying less.