Over 60pc Bangladeshis lost jobs to Covid in March-April 2020: Survey

FE Report | Thursday, 6 May 2021

A survey found that 61.57 per cent people had lost their jobs in March and April last year, due to adverse economic impact of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Only 15 per cent of these people returned to their jobs by one month, while 85 per cent of them were unemployed for a longer time, found the survey, conducted by Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Oxfam in Bangladesh.

CPD and Oxfam jointly published the survey report through a virtual dialogue on Wednesday.

Towfiqul Islam Khan, senior research fellow of CPD, presented the keynote speech, titled 'Income and Employment in Covid Times: How the People are Coping - Findings from a Household Survey.'

He said the report was prepared based on a survey, conducted in late January and early February on 2,600 households, equally selected from rural and urban areas.

The report findings said despite full recovery of jobs before the Covid-19 second wave, average working hours of people reduced by 4.0 per cent, which cut their wage earnings. The weekly working hours reduced by 8.11 per cent in the agricultural sector and 3.64 per cent in the industrial sector.

The report revealed that on an average, about 45 per cent of households had a lower income compared to the pre-Covid period.

Average income reduced by 12 per cent compared to the pre-Covid time; while people engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing faced a loss of 16.50 per cent of their previous income.

Income for people in manufacturing sector reduced by 13 per cent; wholesale, retail trade, motor and vehicle repairing sectors by 14 per cent; and about 9.0 per cent in construction, transportation and storage sectors.

The study said about 40 per cent of the employed people had worse employment situation than the pre-Covid period, while only 8.0 per cent reported better situation.

About 86 per cent of individuals were not earning enough to meet their daily necessities, and about 78 per cent of the households had reduced expenditure to cope with the pandemic impact, while 52 per cent changed dietary patterns involuntarily.

About half of the surveyed households experienced a decline in savings, and more than half of the households had to resort to borrowings.

"The average loan size of the households doubled last year," it found.

Support from the government was limited, and only 20 per cent of the households could receive some form of government support, revealed the report.

Speaking at the virtual event, CPD Chairman Professor Rehman Sobhan said effectively delivering the government interventions, in cash or kind, needed to be developed in view of the impact on employment and income.

He also urged the government to take the research results into cognizance for devising the policy interventions.

Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) President Rizwan Rahman suggested forming a national committee, including representatives from think-tanks, trade-bodies, multilateral agencies, and the government bodies, to decide how the government can better support the Covid-impacted sectors.

"We would require the government supports, may be in the form of tax incentives or stimulus," he said, adding that there must be united efforts.

Mr Rahman stated that reduction in export earnings and FDI inflow adversely impacted the investment scenario. "These negative developments, in turn, have affected the employment scenario to a considerable degree," he concluded.

Former Caretaker Government Advisor Tapan Chowdhury said Square Group invested the highest during the pandemic since last year.

"Some policy supports are required for the industries and employments for better change. I am hopeful that things are going to change."

He said Square Pharmaceuticals is investing abroad also.

"We are going to open a pharma factory in Kenya, and it will go to operation in July," he mentioned.

Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Vice President Shahidullah Azim said the government and the private sector should take coordinated efforts to overcome the loss and challenges of the Covid pandemic.

"It seems that the Covid-19 is not going away overnight. So, plans should be taken considering this fact."

A number of RMG workers lost jobs during the initial phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. But they were able to return to their work soon due to the government's various benefits extended to the sector, Mr Azim added.

Dr Rizwanul Islam, independent economist and Former Special Advisor on Growth, Employment and Poverty Reduction of International Labour Organization (ILO), said the government should invest in labour-intensive rural roads and infrastructure to stimulate the rural economy.

"This will lead to employment and earning opportunities for various types of labourers and help stimulate the domestic market," he noted.

Kamran T Rahman, President of Bangladesh Employers' Federation (BEF), said in the developing countries, like Bangladesh, it has been difficult to properly implement the lockdown in absence of effective social benefits.

Razequzzaman Ratan, President of Socialist Labour Front, asked for a ration system for the workers, so that they can fulfill their food necessities at low costs.

He also demanded specialised hospitals for the workers in industrial zones and day-care facilities for their children.

Ferdaus Ara Begum, chief executive officer of Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD), opined that an increase in employment of the 15-29-year-old people might create adverse social impacts in future, as they are moving out of education and into employment.

Dr Md. Shahid Uz Zaman, founder and executive director of Eco-Social Development Organization (ESDO), said non-MPO teachers did not receive sufficient support, which would have a negative impact on the education system.

While presenting a summary of the discussions, Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, team leader of the project and Distinguished Fellow of CPD, questioned whether degradation of labour would persist in future, and said to address the challenges, medium-term recovery strategies are important.

He stated that integration of recovery with structural transformation issues is highly important.

Dr Bhattacharya also emphasised targeted supports to disadvantaged groups, which were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Professor Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of CPD, chaired the session.

In his closing remarks, he stated that if an inclusive society and economy is not ensured, such a crisis would have much deeper impacts.

Dr Fahmida Khatun, executive director of CPD, and Dr Dipankar Datta, country director of Oxfam in Bangladesh, shared their views in the dialogue.

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