NO AID in food or cash for about five million transport workers who have lost their income because of the ongoing restrictions on public transports suggests a poor government response to Covid fallouts. The government imposed restrictions on public transports, loosely from April 5 and strictly from April 14, now extended till April 28, to contain the Covid infection after a sudden surge in cases and death in early March. But what is worrying is that neither the government nor transport owners have taken adequate aid programmes for such a large number of transport workers, who suffered badly in the 66-day general holiday in 2020 and who get paid on a daily basis although the government and the owners have talked about a salaried employment of transport workers. There are, as a Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation estimate says, around five million road transport workers, with over three million engaged in the worst-hit inter-district transport services.
In 2020, transport workers’ plight came to make the headlines repeatedly and the government arranged for relief programmes although the programmes were inadequate as the authorities often failed to reach the benefits to deserving workers. The Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation, which has 231 registered unions of transport workers as its members, has urged the government on Tuesday to give food and financial support for the workers. Workers, however, are also reported to be lamenting over no response from the associations of transport owners and unions of workers which collect a large amount of money in the name of welfare fund. While the government is primarily responsible for ensuring the economic survival of the people in poverty, transport owners and workers’ associations cannot shy away from their responsibility, especially when they have collected money from workers for years in the name of the welfare and health fund. The unions, as workers say, collect Tk 10 per trip from workers and a half of the amount goes to the welfare and health fund. The federation not rolling out any aid programme from the welfare fund appears to substantiate the allegation that transport leaders extort the money in the name of welfare fund.
The government along with the federation must, therefore, immediately assess the need of transport workers and help the workers with the money from the welfare fund. The government should also step in, if required. The government must also introduce food and cash assistance for the struggling workers and consider opening relief distribution centres. The government must realise that protocols such as social distancing and stay-at-home can only be effectively enforced if people dependent on daily income are provided with food and cash support.
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