The long-term economic consequences of Covid-19 are becoming clearer as job losses mount in the hospitality sector – especially in hotels and restaurants.
New numbers from the Bangladesh Hotel Restaurant Sweetmeat Workers' Federation show that hotels and restaurants are continuing to downsize their staffs.
Around 10 percent of reopened restaurants have laid off nearly 50 percent of their employees, the federation said.
Also, the employees of star and non-star hotels are facing furloughs and layoffs.
So the workers' federation on Monday placed a demand – that no workers be laid off – to State Minister for Labour and Employment Begum Monnujan Sufian.
However, the restaurant owners said they are not cutting jobs but furloughing workers.
All the restaurants in the country closed their business after March 22, the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners' Association said.
After a meeting of the association on June 1, its president Khandaker Ruhul Amin said, "Most of the restaurant owners are not interested in reopening their businesses considering the current situation. However, if anyone wants to reopen their restaurant now, they can go ahead."
However, more layoffs and business closures during March-June suggest a lot of jobs will not be coming back soon.
Three lakh plus employees in the tourism industry of Bangladesh may lose their jobs, permanently, by June this year due to the Covid-19 crisis, according to an estimation of Pacific Asia Travel Association Bangladesh chapter made in late March 2020.
They include 1 lakh employees in hotels and 1.5 lakh in: restaurants, coffee shops, fast food outlets, bars, and others.
This grim forecast is the ground reality of the sector now, the industry insiders said.
General Secretary of the Bangladesh Hotel Restaurant and Sweetmeat Workers' Federation Anwar Hossain said, "Around 30 lakh people are employed in the non-star hotels, restaurants, and sweetmeat stores. Only 10 percent of them have resumed business and laid off around 50 percent of their employees."
However, Khandaker Ruhul said, "We are not laying off anyone. Only 10 percent of restaurants have opened but their seating capacity had to be cut by half."
"I had to reduce my seating capacity of 80 people to 40 to maintain social distancing. So 25 of my 45 employees are working now. The rest of them are on leave and I am paying according to my capacity."
According to the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners' Association, there are around 30,000 restaurants across the country and 8,000 of them are in Dhaka.
The reopened restaurants and coffee shops are struggling due to poor sales and shorter business hours from 8am to 4pm, according to the restaurant owners.
As the operation hours are not cost-effective, most of the restaurant owners are still in a fix.
Ashfaq Rahman Asif, managing director of Tarka Restaurant in Banani, said, "We had a full-fledged opening after Eid but had to stop our operations due to poor sales. If the situation continues, I might have to close my business."
"We are now operating based on takeaway service only. I paid around 200 employees up to last month. However, I am uncertain about the future," he added.
Mir Akter Uddin Dulal, the owner of Star Kabab in Dhanmondi, said, "The situation has not returned to the normal. So we are still uncertain about the reopening of our restaurant."
"However, we have not yet thought about laying off any employees. It will depend on the situation, though."
However, restaurant workers are some of the lowest-paid workers across the globe.
The restaurant workers get Tk8,000-9,000 per month, including the cost for their meal and accommodation. However, their monthly income amounts to Tk12,000-15,000 when customers' tips are counted, the restaurant owners said.
Meanwhile, luxury hotels have also started layoffs.
Executive Director of Dhaka Regency Hotel and Resort Shahid Hamid said, "Around 220 doctors are staying at my hotel now. And 80 of my 250 employees are serving them. The rest of them are on leave without pay."
"The situation is almost the same in other hotels of the same category."
Workers' six demands
The Bangladesh Hotel Restaurant and Sweetmeat Workers' Federation's six demands include declaring a resolution that no workers will be laid off and their full salaries will be ensured.
The other demands are that ration cards be launched, a risk allowance be provided, and a minimum incentive of Tk10,000 be provided by the government, per month, for the workers.
They also demanded that the treatment cost of workers must be provided by the government and the owners.
"We have submitted a memorandum to the prime minister through the state minister for labour and employment," Anwar said.
"Voicing the demands, we also held rallies in front of the National Press Club and in districts and upazilas."