Panel Discussion 3: The Absence of Labor Rights and the Plight of Bangladeshi Workers during COVID-19
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The third panel discussion on “The Absence of Labor Rights and the Plight of Bangladeshi Workers during COVID-19” was chaired by Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha, Professor of Economics, University of Dhaka. The esteemed panel included Dr. Rushidan Islam Rahman, Executive Chairperson, Centre for Development and Employment Research (CDER); SK Jenefa K Jabbar, Director, Human Rights and Legal Aid Services and Social Compliance, BRAC; and Dr. Rizwanul Islam, Senior Visiting Fellow, Centre for Development and Employment Research (CDER).
Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha started the discussion stating that the labour market was heavily damaged by the pandemic, and since 85% of workers are in the informal economy, their labour rights are often ignored. “The benefits of incentive packages are not available to them because of being a part of the informal economy,” she said.
Dr Rushidan Islam Rahman said that according to the BBS, real wages started to decline in early 2020 despite there being no pandemic. It has evidently caused a reverse migration as people are going back to the villages from cities. “Students who will graduate in the post-pandemic years will have a tough time in the labour market as there will be more competition. There’s no alternative but to better equip oneself with modern technology to survive in such competition,” opined Dr Rushidan.
SK Jenefa K Jabbar pointed out that the pandemic has shed light on the skill gap in the labour market. “While automation is on the rise, no one is trying to develop the skill sets required to adapt with the advanced technology,” she said. She also mentioned that due to the lack of a tracking mechanism, workers who are laid off, often don’t get the benefit of safety net packages.
Dr Rizwanul Islam mentioned that the economy has suffered from a major supply shock followed by a demand shock. Despite moves to turn the economy around, the situation is far over being normal. “Trade unions are seldom taken seriously, and the responsible authorities do not seem to care about the workers unless any major accident occurs,” said Dr Islam.