Covid-19 fallout: 80pc of workers see fall in wages

A woman at work in a garment factory in the Dhaka Export Processing Zone (DEPZ), Savar.
Reuters file photo

80 per cent of the workers in four industrial sectors have seen fall in their wages due to the coronavirus pandemic. To manage the situation, the workers had to seek loans from their relatives or microfinance institutions. Some of them had to take the food aid provided by the government.

Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and Sweden based organisation WageIndicator Foundation (WIF) have found this information in a joint survey on the workers of four industrial sectors – readymade garments (RMG), leather, construction and tea. However, the survey has not been published officially as yet.

According to the survey, female workers in these four sectors get 77 per cent of lower wages as compared to the male workers on average. Among the workers of these four sectors, construction workers get the highest wages. Again, they are in the most fragile condition as none of the workers in this sector have any joint labour contract, which exists in other sectors at least to some extent. They are lagging behind in safety concerns too. On the other hand, the workers of the tea industry get the lowest wages.

The country has been undergoing massive development activities in the roads, highways, railways, ports and power sector for a decade. As a result, the demand for workers in the construction industry has increased.

For example, in 2015, as many as 3.5 million (35 lakh) workers were employed in the construction industry. The number has increased to 4 million (40 lakh) by now. However, only one-tenth of them work on a permanent employment contract basis. The rest are working without any kind of appointment letter. They usually work through the supplier contractors.

According to the survey, among the workers of these four sectors, a construction worker earns the highest– Tk 11,547 on average per month. A worker in the leather industry earns Tk 10,800 per month, the second highest. The average monthly salary of a garment worker is Tk 9,457. The workers in the tea industry earn the lowest among the workers in these four sectors. They get only Tk 3,092 per month.

BIDS and WIF conducted this survey titled “decent wage” from August to November, last year on the basis of random sampling. Some 1,894 workers from four industrial sectors were interviewed during the survey. Among them, 724 workers are from 65 garment factories, 337 from 34 tanneries, 401 from five tea gardens and 432 are construction workers.

Netherland based Mondiaal FNV funded the survey. The targets of the survey was to find out the actual wages of the workers, the income and expenditure status of the workers, effects of coronavirus pandemic on their life and whether the workers have joint contracts or not.

In the survey, some 83 per cent of workers said they were not at work when the government declared general holiday due to coronavirus and wages of all these absentees have reduced. However, it has been found in the survey that 70 per cent of the workers have received the annual bonus.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on the survey results, Minhaj Mahmud, research director of BIDS, said many of the workers are not under any contract regardless of sectors. Their wages have decreased due to the pandemic. As a result, they had to take loans from relatives and other sources to run their families.

When asked how they managed the situation after the fall in their wages, 66 per cent of workers said they had taken loans from family members. Some 23 per cent of workers said they had to take the food aid provided by the government and 20 per cent of the workers took loans from microfinance institutions (MFI). Apart from this, some 9 per cent of workers said they got rations from their employers.

The workers were asked in the survey whether they have any joint labour contract or not. Overall 70 per cent of workers from all the four sectors answered negatively to this question. Some 18 per cent of the workers said they have a joint labour contract. Again, 60 per cent of the workers do not think it is essential to have a contract where the rest 40 per cent of the workers think it is.

According to the survey, the recruitment of female workers under the joint labour contracts is twice that of male workers. More than half of the tea workers and 20 per cent of the leather workers work under contracts. The rate is 10 per cent in the garments sector while none of the construction workers work under any contract.

The survey report finds use of masks, hand sanitizers and soaps is more common in the garments sector comparatively.

*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu