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Transport workers may face deeper crisis

Published : 08 Nov 2020 09:07 PM | Updated : 09 Nov 2020 01:02 AM

Amid speculations of enforcing a second lockdown, leaders of private transport owners and workers expressed grave concerns over continuing to carry on business.

Many of them have questioned on how to survive if income of daily wage earners is prevented in such lockdown situations to prevent further transmission of coronavirus.

“We are very worried about our workers as most of the transport workers, including bus drivers are paid on ‘no work, no pay’ basis. If a second lockdown is enforced, we fear the already deteriorating transport business may lead to closure of many short and long-distance transports operation for indefinite period,” said one of the transport leaders.

There are rumors that the government may declare another lockdown ahead of the expected second-wave of corona infections which may have severe impact on the economy of the country.

In light of the rumours, transport workers and owners declined to shoulder further burdens of continued losses which they said that the transport sector will be hit hard. 

“If this lockdown plan extends for a long time, then it seems that we may have to depend on reliefs of some form of financial survival plans to overcome the crisis during the lockdown,” said Munshi Haroon, a transport owner of Dhaka – Feni inter-district transport.

Sirajul Islam, a fellow transport owner of Dhaka -Mymensingh inter-district transport said, “We have already suffered a lot due to limited passengers and fewer operation of trips. Many of our workers, like drivers and their helpers, mechanics, are literally spending days without work. Further nation-wide shutdown may mean disaster in the transport business in Bangladesh.”

Several visits to some of the leading inter-district bus terminals revealed that the number of bus trips has substantially shrunk due to the passenger crisis. As the salaries of the drivers, helpers and supervisors of the transports are trip based, their income has also decreased.

“Before the corona crisis I used to make a stead monthly income of around Tk 40,000 to 50,000. Since last May my income dropped to less than Tk 20,000 a month which also fluctuates when business is down-trend,” said Mohammad Sheikh Jahangir Alam, a driver of a Rangpur district-bound bus.

The long-distance public transport has been allowed to operate with full passenger capacity in compliance with the health safety rules by reducing the fares from September 1. Even after two months, transport workers like Akbar Hossain are still struggling to make a living. 

“I don’t earn like I used to before this corona crisis. Life is tougher now as there is no guarantee that I would earn a minimum wage everyday. Of course, corona is the main reason but instead of making things better for daily wage earners like us, the government is deciding to impose another lockdown. I have no idea how would I continue to support my family,” said Ratan Miah, a helper of a long-distance bus operating between Dhaka and Khulna district.

In the face of reduced income, many transport owners were also forced to downsize their staff strength mostly at the terminals where they sell tickets.

The salaries of managers selling tickets have been halved in many counters while the number of staff at the ticket counters were cut to one third, a visit to a bus terminal revealed.

Drivers, helpers and supervisors said they are still getting the same amount of money they used to get for each trip. However, the total number of trips has decreased due to the passenger crisis.

Before the corona epidemic, there were 15 to 20 trip schedules per month. Now there are 8 to 9 trip schedules available per month. Naturally, the income of the workers has decreased. In such a situation, they do not want public transport to be part of the temporary closure.

Asked about this, Shahjahan Khan, president of the Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation (BSPSF), said, "There is nothing to do if there is another lockdown. The situation is the same all over the world. However, we are hopeful that the government will not give a lockdown unless the situation worsens. And if there is another lockdown, I will ask the Prime Minister for relief and other assistance for the workers.”