Blockade pushes workers, small traders to the brink

Shakhawat Hossain
A bus of Tanjil Paribahan lies burnt in arson attack at Bahadhur Shah Park in Old Dhaka on Tuesday evening after the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance extended the on-going strike by 48 hours. — New Age photo

A bus of Tanjil Paribahan lies burnt in arson attack at Bahadhur Shah Park in Old Dhaka on Tuesday evening after the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance extended the on-going strike by 48 hours. — New Age photo

Workers of small and medium factories, shops, hotels, restaurants and transport sector are suffering economic hardship because of delay in payment of their wages amid a protracted blockade enforced by the opposition alliance.
Factory owners and traders said sluggish business caused by disruption of supply chain and fall in both demands and production was forcing them to delay payment to their workers.
Workers’ leaders told New Age that the owners of small and medium factories and wholesale and retail shops were delaying payment to their workers or paying them partly on the pretext of sluggish business.
Workers and small traders were already struggling to meet their daily expenses and many of them who remained unpaid for about two months have been forced to spend from their savings, they said.
Economists feared that the situation might worsen unless political violence de-escalates to allow recovery in the trade and economic activities.
Factory owners and small traders said the longest-ever transport blockade had been taking a heavy toll on their business forcing them to delay payment to the workers.
Islampur Cloth Merchant Association president Abdus Sattar Dhali told New Age that many shop owners had failed to clear last month’s pay to their workers even in the third week of the current month.
The city’s largest wholesale cloth market has been experiencing dull business with thin presence of buyers since the blockade began on January 6.
Supply chain has suffered badly forcing many factories to suspend production, he said.
The number of micro- small- and medium manufacturing units in the country is 42,792 employing 50,15,936 workers,  according to the Survey of Manufacturing Industries by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistic in 2012.
The Economic Census by the same department in 2013 found that there were 80,75,704 economic units overall, 11 per cent of which were engaged in manufacturing activities.
The World Bank assessed that this huge workforce shared the losses of Tk 10,857 crore suffered by the national economy in the last fiscal due to political unrest in the run-up to the January 5, 2014 general election.
The bank said the losses were 1 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Luxury bus operators have been forced to reduce their services to half since transports became the main target of the arsonists.
The government has been forced to ask transport operators to avoid night-time service as many buses and trucks have come under firebomb attacks that left scores of passengers dead.
Sohag Paribahan Private Limited operation manager Mohammad Dulal said they had cleared workers’ payments in the second week of February despite counting losses.
He said it would be difficult for the leading bus operator to pay its 1,200 workers and employees if the situation did not improve.
The protracted blockade has pushed transport workers into an appalling condition as they are employed on ‘no work no pay’ basis.
Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation general secretary Osman Ali said a ‘good owner’ often paid Tk 100 to a worker daily.
Bangladesh Shop Owners Association president Shah Alam Khandaker said 25 lakh shops across the country employing 75 lakh people had been badly affected by the blockade.
Both the owners and the employees are suffering hardship, he said.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association vice-president Shahidullah Azim said garment factory owners had somehow managed to pay wages for January.
He, however, expressed doubt whether many them would be able to clear workers’ wages in the next month.
Finance minister AMA Muhith said the country’s agricultural sector bore the major brunt of the continuous blockade.
He said farmers had been nearly devastated because of serious disruption in supply chain.
Agriculture contributes about 20.29 per cent to the country’s GDP. About 43.6 per cent of the labour force is employed in agriculture.

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