Road transport workers in hardship

Hundreds of thousands of road transport workers across the country are passing their days in severe hardship and uncertainty ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr as they have been unemployed for about a month amid the ongoing countrywide restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19. The workers, especially those engaged in the inter-district services, are the worst sufferers as they have remained unemployed since April 5.

In Bangladesh most of the transport workers are paid on a daily basis according to the number of trips they make. Leaders of the transport workers have demanded financial assistance, rations and the resumption of movement of public transports on roads.

Rights organisations urged the authorities concerned and the leaders of workers’ and owners’ organisations to provide financial supports to the workers to mitigate their sufferings. The government on Tuesday extended the ongoing restrictions on public movement and other activities for another week till April 28 midnight from April 21 midnight amid violation of restrictions. Earlier, the restrictions on public movement and business activities that had come into effect on April 5 were extended till April 14.

Since April 5 the movement of public transports — road, railway and waterway — has remained suspended on inter-district routes. According to Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation, currently there are around 50 lakh road transport workers in the country 30 lakh to 32 lakh of whom are engaged in inter-district transport services while the rest are employed in the city services. The federation on Tuesday issued a press release demanding food and financial support from the authorities for the workers without work.

In the release, federation president Shajahan Khan, a former shipping minister, and general secretary Ismail Ali said that last year only a handful of workers received relief from the government. They urged the government to help the workers by confirming their identity. Meanwhile, the Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh in a press release on Wednesday urged the authorities, owners’ and workers’ associations and business people to give the workers relief and rations.

In the release, association secretary general Md Mozammel Haque Chowdhury said that the road transport sector was yet to turn into a formal sector though vast money was involved in the sector. Around 98 per cent of the sector’s workers have no appointment letters and they get fixed wages on a daily basis, he continued. In these circumstances, he went on, the workers are currently living a subhuman life without any earnings.

Owners’ and workers’ associations were also not coming to their aid, which collected lakhs of taka daily from the workers in the name of these associations, he alleged. In the past year after the government imposed a ban on the movement of public transports on roads for more than two months since March 26 following the Covid outbreak, transport workers staged demonstrations and blocked roads at Tangail, Narayanganj, Panchagarh, Savar and Gabtoli and Saidabad in Dhaka demanding relief. On that occasion they also questioned association leaders about the huge money collected from them on a daily basis in the name of welfare fund.

The road transport workers, with no exception, are registered under 231 countrywide unions which in turn are registered under the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, the apex organisation of the road transport workers. On April 18 Bangladesh Road Transport Owners’ Association secretary general Khandakar Enayet Ullah distributed relief materials among 1,200 workers at the Mohakhali bus terminal in the capital. At the time he urged the leaders of the owners and the workers to assist the workers during the restrictions.

Workers federation leader Osman Ali on Wednesday told New Age that they had already asked all the unions under the federation to help the workers as much as they could. He said that they had also urged the government to allow the resumption of bus services across the country ahead of the upcoming Eid. ‘If the workers come out of their home agitating for relief we have no way to stop them,’ he added.

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