It has been over a year that the Covid-19 pandemic struck. On this day last year we had written that on the one hand life was threatened by the virus, and on the other hand, people without work were facing hunger and suffering. The working people had been pitched into a grave crisis.
A year has passed since then and there is no accounting for how many more working people have lost their jobs, how many are struggling to survive with slashed wages. And today is 1 May, International Workers’ Day. We cannot forget the historic struggles and achievements that lie behind this day. We want to draw inspiration and strength from those tireless, indomitable struggles and sacrifice. On this auspicious May Day, we express our greetings and solidarity with the working people of Bangladesh and the entire world.
Last year the workers did not benefit from the Tk 50 billion (Tk 5000 crore) stimulus given to the RMG sector, it is alleged. Economists say steps must be taken to place cash in the hands of the struggling workers.
We recall the workers’ uprising on 1 May 1886 in Chicago, USA. They laid down their lives while demanding for an eight-hour work day, rather than 10 to 12 hours of daily labour. In wake of that sacrifice, workers all over the world have had to struggle for fair wages, holidays, humanitarian treatment as well as a healthy and safe work environment. The eight-hour work day was achieved and work environment has somewhat improved. But safety and humanitarian rights of the workers remain a far cry. The prevailing pandemic has brought to light the fragility of the workers’ economic and social safety, their basic human rights.
The sufferings of the workers created by the first wave of coronavirus were gradually overcome as the spread of the virus began to abate. But the arrival of the second wave has created fresh fear. The situation arrived just as the economy was struggling to get back on its feet and it is the workers that bear the brunt most of all. The informal labour sector is the largest and hardest hit, so this is where priority must be given.
During the lockdown last year, the readymade garment industry and other factories were shut down temporarily. This time the factories have been kept open otherwise the workers would have their backs against the wall. Their scope for survival would have shrunk further if the factories closed.
The government must take initiative to ensure the workers get their due wages and allowance in time, and also provide support for those who have lost their jobs. Last year the workers did not benefit from the Tk 50 billion (Tk 5000 crore) stimulus given to the RMG sector, it is alleged. Economists say steps must be taken to place cash in the hands of the struggling workers.
Alongside the struggle for livelihood, the workers are also vulnerable when it comes to medical treatment in the case of contracting coronavirus. On one hand there is no food at home, and on the other there are the costs of medical treatment. Special financial assistance must be ensured for those facing such a predicament. As the number of coronavirus cases has spiked at present, emphasis must be placed on health safety in all workplaces, including workers wearing masks and maintaining health and hygiene protocol in all factories.