At least seven million workers are involved with the operation of 800,000 buses and trucks across the country
Transport workers, including drivers and conductors have been hit hard by the lockdown as buses and other modes of public transports remain closed due to the ongoing strict lockdown.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, they expressed their helplessness at being unable to make any income as they have been without work since July 1.
Nazim Uddin, supervisor of an Ananna Classic Paribahan bus, said: “When wheels are moving, we get paid. Our buses operate from Dhaka to/from Kishoreganj. There is no earning now, our buses are idle and our lives are becoming difficult.”
He also said that he used to earn Tk500 each day, while his bus' helper used to get Tk250 and driver Tk600.
"But since the strict lockdown, we are practically living in debt," he added.
Khairul Sardar, driver of an Eagle Paribahan bus, said he was at a loss of words to describe his current situation.
"We followed the strict health directives, but with no buses on the roads, we are on the brink of starvation," he said.
"We are daily wage earners without any savings to survive during lockdowns. The government must resume public transports before Eid-ul-Azha, otherwise we will perish," he feared.
A helper and supervisor of Mirpur Link bus service in the capital said that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there were already fewer passengers.
"I used to earn Tk400 a day. But after the lockdown, there is zero income whatsoever. Where else am I supposed to look for work? Businesses are closed anyway," he added.
Litu Ahmed, counter manager of Hanif Enterprise, said: “All our transport staff are sitting idle, with only salaried employees getting paid. We do not know how long this will continue."
He also said those who are linked to the long haul operations, such as highway restaurants and automobile workshops, are also facing a similar crisis .
Mir Hossain, a driver of Alam Asia Paribahan, a long haul service, said that he had received aid in the form of food and other essentials during the lockdown last year, as well as government assistance.
But this year, workers like him received nothing, he claimed.
Osman Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation, said that no one is questioning what the government has done for the workers during the pandemic.
But last year, a list of five million workers was given to the government but only 1.1 million workers received Tk2.500 each due to bureaucratic red tape, he claimed.
He also said that there is still no clear declaration of 10 kg of rice for the workers despite repeated requests.
On June 26, the government allocated money to the poor. Whether the workers will be included in it or not could not be confirmed as of Sunday.
Khandaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners' Association, said that the workers and employers are facing immense financial difficulties. Grants and relief are not enough to overcome this.
“We have appealed to the government to resume long haul buses. People will remain determined to travel outside of the capital before Eid. They will use any other mode of transport such as microbuses or rented vehicles to travel different places, risking Covid-19 infections,” he added.
He also said that they need cash assistance from the government. They think that if the interest on bank loans and transport taxes were waived, the owners would be saved for the time being.
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) there are about 4.4 million vehicles registered in the country. Of these, more than 800,000 are commercial vehicles. About seven million workers are engaged in driving these vehicles.
Of these, five million registered workers belong to Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation. In addition, another two million workers are involved in various minor transports. Again, there are some who are associated with transport but not part of this organization.