Around 10,000 families, of jute warehouse workers in Khulna, are starving – because they have not had work for around two months due to the Covid-19 shutdown.
The export of raw jute from Khulna to China has been stopped since last December because of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Exports to India, Pakistan and Vietnam have also been stopped for around a month.
As a result, most of the 25 jute presses of Daulatpur, Raligate, Digholia, and Fultola upazilas have been closed.
All the jute warehouses beside the rail line from Muhsin Intersection to Raligate are also closed.
"There has been no work for two months. I am now driving a van to feed my family. However, it is not possible to operate the van freely, all the time, because of the aggressive behaviour of the administration," said Hafizur Rahman, a raw jute worker.
Another jute worker, Afzal Mia said, "The company has been shut because of the novel coronavirus. I am not earning anything now. I am also not going outside as I am obeying the government's instructions. It is also Ramadan and my five-member family is starving."
Abdul Kader Master, general secretary of Daulatpur Jute Belling Workers' Union, said, "Around 10,000 workers are living precariously. They received government relief only once in the last one-and-a-half months. The company owners are not providing them any help."
Jute exporters said they are counting an economic loss because of the Covid-19 pandemic. They said around nine-and-a-half lakh bales of raw jute – worth a total of around Tk1,000 crore – is usually exported from Khulna annually. However, the pandemic has stopped the export business.
"The exports have been stopped for the last three months. As a result, the exporters and the workers are facing trouble. The workers are spending their days without enough food. The owners are losing money paying bank interest and warehouse rent," said A M Harunur Rashid Akunji, a raw jute exporter.
Sheikh Sayed Ali, chairman of the Bangladesh Jute Association, said, "The novel coronavirus has destroyed us. The government used to get crores of taka in taxes from this sector. However, that has stopped now."
"The government has provided some relief for the workers. We are also trying to help them," he added.