What the papers say

Labour & The Latest Lockdown

A weekly round up of articles about employment, the labour market, skills training and workforce development. This week’s round up is drawn from The Daily Star. Here is the news for the week ending 16th April 2021.

This Week in the Bangladesh English News…

…The latest lockdowns means low-wage and informal workers contend with less and the garment sector staggers. There’s another revision of the projected GDP – the question is, “Up or down?” And the World Bank makes recommendations for spurring economic growth.

Education and Labour Market

Workers in the informal sector are suffering as the country went into “lockdown” starting 5 April. With the strictest restrictions on movement and business since 30 May last year, workers such as rickshaw drivers, tea stall owners and street vendors have seen a large decrease in their daily incomes. Cobbler Srilal Babu said that before the pandemic he made Tk 700 per day, but nowadays he makes maximum Tk 200 per a day and struggles to buy food for his family. To support his family, Babu said he took some Tk 80,000 in loans, and “I now struggle to pay the instalment of those loans.”

Meanwhile, restaurant workers rallied to demand cash support and food rations in front of the National Press Club during an rally organised by the Bangladesh Hotel Restaurant Sweetmeat Workers Federation (BHRSWF). The BHRSWF published a seven-point demand, including Tk 10,000 monthly cash support.

Many aspiring migrant workers were eager to return to work abroad until the government announced the suspension of international flights 14 April – 20 April. This week, some 20,000 to 25,000 migrant workers were supposed to fly from Bangladesh according to the recruiting platform Oikya Parishad. Last year, overseas employment decreased to some 217,000 from 700,000 the year before, said a government agency, the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET). Yet remittances are increasing: from July through March workers sent about $18.6 billion – more than the $18.2 billion sent during the previous fiscal year.

A survey of marginalised groups assessed financial hardships during the Covid-19 pandemic. Those surveyed were from chars, haors, coastal and slum areas; dalits; indigenous people; people with disabilities; micro, small, and medium entrepreneurs; and migrant workers who returned home. About 79 percent of households reported financial hardships since the start of the pandemic, and 79 percent of those households had not recovered financially as of February 2021. During this time, 50 percent reported they took loans, averaging almost Tk 53,000 per a household. The Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh conducted the survey and sampled 1,600 households among the 10 marginalised groups.

The World Bank published a new report: “Bangladesh Development Update – Moving Forward: Connectivity and Logistics to Strengthen Competitiveness”. According to the report and a bank estimate, 30 percent was the upper limit of the country’s poverty during the pandemic, which is 7 percentage points more than a it would have been in a non-COVID scenario.

Financial Services

Thirty economists and the finance minister met to discuss next year’s budget. Relaying what was discussed, some said they advocated for a larger allocation to the health sector and cash and food aid for the poor. Former Bangladesh Bank governor Dr. Atiur Rahman and others said that money should be sent to the poor through mobile financial services (MFS). Moreover, Rahman supported the implementation of a government hotline for people facing food crises so that the government can take action to get food to them.

The aforementioned World Bank report says the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the financial risk associated with non-performing loans, weak capital buffers, poor bank governance and risk management in Bangladesh. Furthermore, to support competitive exports and economic recovery, the authors argues Bangladesh should improve connectivity and logistics, such as with the implementation of an electronic processing system to facilitate cargo movement at ports and borders.

The International Monetary Fund said Bangladesh is leading in Covid-19-related economic recovery in South Asia. Indeed, the country saw more GDP growth in 2020 than many South Asian countries, many of which lost GDP year-on-year. The IMF announced its revised GDP projection for Bangladesh in 2021 from 4.4 percent to 5 percent. The Word Bank acted similarly at the end of March, revising its GDP projection from 1.6 to 3.6 percent. The government, meanwhile, has maintained its estimate of 7.4 percent GDP growth.

Business, Investments, Trade and Growth

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry visited Dhaka Friday, 9 April. He met with the prime minister and other top officials. Ahead of the meetings, a foreign ministry official said Bangladesh would seek US support concerning renewable energy and river erosion, which has already displaced many people. During the talks, Kerry reiterated US commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. Kerry said the US would pay $2 billion to the Green Climate Fund and would lead mobilization efforts to raise $100 billion for the climate fund for migration and adaptation. So far, Bangladesh has secured $351 million from the Green Climate Fund. Kerry also invited the prime minister to “Leaders’ Summit on Climate” April 22-23 hosted by US President Joe Biden. 

The day after Kerry’s visit, the US embassy announced USAID will spend up to $17 million to promote clean energy in Bangladesh through a multi-year project titled “Bangladesh Advancing Development and Growth through Energy”.

Solar power in the form of solar home systems (SHS) has saved Bangladesh $1.85 billion since 2003, announced the World Bank during the launch of a new book titled “Living in the Light-The Bangladesh Solar Home System Story”. The savings come from off-grid SHS, which were installed under the direction of the state-run Infrastructure Development Company Limited’s (IDCOL) Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development (RERED) project. Some 58 NGOs and microfinance were also key to implementation, said the bank. The project will continue until the end of this year.

Uncertainty troubled the garment industry after the government announcement of a stricter lockdown 14 – 21 April. Factory owners decried the restrictions, saying a pause in production while other countries remain open would be disastrous. “They will do business, and we will lose our business,” said Mohammad Hatem, vice-president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA). The upcoming Eid, a long holiday during which factories usually close, creates further cause for concern. At a virtual meeting with Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam, factory owners and representatives said that it was decided that export-oriented industries can remain open. Worker representatives said lockdown or no lockdown, workers should be paid in full and that it would be very bad if a lockdown caused workers’ layoffs.

Some 173 families, affected by flood and erosion along the banks of Jamuna and Dhaleswari rivers in the Tangail Sadar subdistricts, have benefited from a flood rehabilitation project by the Red Crescent Society according to a Daily Star report. The families received cash assistance for constructing flood-resistant homes, tube wells, latrines and income generating opportunities. One woman said she started a poultry farm, and another said she bought several goats and ships to ensure her livelihood. The project also also oversaw the elevation of roads, road repair and the construction of two culverts.

Farmers and Agriculture

Sales of national hilsa fish usually peak before the Pahela Baishakh celebration 14 April, but this year sales were curbed by the ongoing pandemic and recent lockdowns. One hilsa wholesaler said he usually sold hilsa to hotels in Dhaka for about Tk 2,000 per kilogramme. However, this year he cannot sell any fish. Hilsa is reportedly being sold for Tk 1,200 per kg, but even then buyers are not showing and many workers are sitting idle.