Dry-fish labourers passing terrible monsoon during Covid-19

Though usual to pass idle time during the monsoon, but the season this year has become miserable for Md Alam, a dry fish labourer of Cox’s Bazar area, due to Covid-19 pandemic.

Not only Md Alam, all labourers of this sector are passing a terrible monsoon due to financial crisis as they have become jobless for more than three months due to Covid-19. Most of them failed to repay their previous advances. Moreover, they have taken advances again from the dry fish unit owners.     

In Bangladesh, dry fish production period spans from September to May but a significant portion of dry fish is produced in the last two months – April to May – due to favorable weather. This year, dry fish production remained suspended in the peak season due to coronavirus pandemic.

The dry fish labourers usually do not have enough work during the monsoon from June to August. That is why they have to meet their family expenses during the period from their savings or taking money as advance from the fish processing unit owners.

“Like many other labourer, I have been sitting idle for more three months but I had to arrange food for her five minor children,” said Alam, a labourer of the Najirartek dry fish village under Cox’s Bazar Sadar Upazila.

He informed that he has taken Taka 5,000 as advance from dry fish unit owner for arranging food for his children. Besides, he could not repay the advance money of the last year. So, in the upcoming season, he will face extra burden which likely to pressure her to involve her children in the dry fish labour.

Like Md Alam, Momtaj Begum has also faced difficulties due to COVID-19 pandemic. She could not repay her previous loan. Moreover, she has taken another loan in the season which will create extra burden in the upcoming season.

“Last monsoon, I borrowed Taka 6,000 from a dry fish unit owner with a condition to repay the money the outgoing season. I couldn’t repay the whole amount. Moreover, I have taken another advance” said Momtaz, working in Najirartek dry fish village in Cox’s Bazar.

Atikullah Sawdagor, the president of the Najirartek Dry Fish Traders Cooperative Society, said they produce most of the dry fish during in the last few months of the season.

“But, this year the dry fish production dropped at almost zero level for the want of fish since as the fishermen were afraid of going to sea to catch fish amid coronavirus pandemic. We also faced transportation crisis to bring fish from Chattogram,” he added.

He said the Najirartek dry fish village has incurred a loss of about Taka 100 crore in the outgoing season.

Around 30,000 workers, with two-thirds women, work in 1,040 dried fish processing units in the Najirartek dry fish village and most of them work on daily wage basis, he said.

Civic Engagement and Capacity Development Specialist of the CLIMB project under WINROCK Foundation Md Tanvir Sharif said loabourer in the dry fish sector will face more difficulties in the upcoming season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He informed that Winrock International with the support of United States Department of Labor or Bureau of International Labor Affairs (USDoL/ILAB) is working to reduce child labor and improve acceptable work condition in the dried fish sector in southeast Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh Center for Communication Programs (BCCP) in collaboration with CLIMB Project, is contributing to these efforts as a media and communication partner, he added.

He said the hazardous child labour (those already listed and those consider for inclusion, such as dry-fish, waste disposal, domestic work and stone quarry etc) is likely to increase due to COVID-19.

He urged authorities concerned to accelerate the government’s different social safety net programmes, including widow allowance, old age allowance, maternity allowance, and different relief programmes for the people of the sector.

There are around 50 dry fish villages in the coastal districts – Cox’s Bazar, Khulna and Satkhira – where over one lakh people are directly involved in the sector.