Around 30 lakh domestic workers of the country have lost their income due to the Covid-19 pandemic which has been paralysing the country's economy since March.
Most of the domestic workers have lost their jobs mostly because their employers tried to maintain safety measures to contain the virus after the government declared a nationwide shutdown across the country to curb the spread of Covid-19.
After losing their jobs, these domestic workers have been living an inhuman existence and starving with their family. And there is no government initiative to help them.
Human rights workers and other concerned people have urged the government to take necessary steps to help these poor people.
According to the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), there are around 30 lakh domestic workers in different cities of the country.
Nazma Yesmin, director (Research and Development) of BILS, said, "Around 57 percent of the domestic workers have lost their jobs. The income of the other 43 percent has been decreased."
BILS conducted a survey on 3,000 domestic workers in the capital in the first week of June. The results of the survey have been sent to the ministry of labour.
Nazma Yesmin said, "Around 17 lakh of the 30 lakh domestic workers of the country live in the capital. Around 90 percent of the domestic workers of the country are women and children."
Rasheda Begum, 61, hailing from Mymensingh, worked as a housemaid in two houses in the capital's Badda DIT Project area. She earned Tk8,000 which she spent for her house rent where she lived with her two children.
But her employers sacked her in March because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Currently, Rasheda is living by begging in front of the central mosque of the DIT Project area.
"I never begged in my life. I have always tried to earn my own bread. But now there is no work due to corona. My employers said they will hire me again when the situation improves," Rasheda told The Business Standard.
"I have no option but to go back to my village. I have five children. Three of my daughters are already married. Now I live with a son and a daughter. I am begging because I have no other option," she added.
Dr Nazneen Ahmed, senior research fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, told The Business Standard, "There is no law in Bangladesh to protect domestic workers. There is the Domestic Servants Registration Ordinance, 1961, which asks for registration of the domestic workers in the local police station before hiring them. But it does not include the rights of domestic workers."
"The government enacted the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy several years ago. It said one must give one month's notice before terminating the jobs of any domestic workers. Otherwise, the worker has to be paid one month's salary. It is also applicable if anyone wants to leave his or her job. But the employers are not following this amid this Covid-19 pandemic. There is no monitoring system on behalf of the government either," said Nazneen Ahmed.
Anisa, 12, and Sabina, 11, are two sisters who worked in two houses as domestic workers in the capital. Their village home is in Bagura's Shibganj area where their paralysed father Abdul Kuddus lives. The two sisters earned Tk6000 and sent the money to their father to run the family.
But in April, their employers sent them home after the number of Covid-19 infection cases increased in the country.
Abdul Kuddus told The Business Standard, "Now it is very difficult to run my family. My neighbours sometimes help me. That's how we are surviving."
He said, "There is no one else in the family who can earn money. I sent my two children to work as domestic workers. I have to visit the doctor every month and buy medicine. Now I don't have the money to do that."
Golam Arif Tutul, a resident of the capital's Moghbazar area, said, "Domestic workers have been asked not to come to work because of coronavirus. A housemaid works in several houses. So, it is possible that the virus can be spread through them."
Tutul thinks it is a moral obligation for employers to provide economic help to their domestic workers.
Dr Rejaul Haque, additional secretary (Labour Sub-section) of the Ministry of Labour, told The Business Standard that there is no legal obligation for employers to help domestic workers for a long period.
He said, "We can request the employers to provide some economic help for their domestic workers during the time of a pandemic. But if you want to force someone to do something you need a law. There is no such law in the country."
He said the ministry has not organised any relief programme for domestic workers.
Some youths in the capital have been providing food to the poor and destitute amid the pandemic. Syed Saiful Alam is one of these youths.
Saiful said that they started the initiative thinking about the security guards of shopping malls, banks and other institutions because they have no option to arrange a meal for themselves amid the pandemic.
He said that at first security guards and rickshaw pullers came to them for food. But now most of the people who are coming are domestic workers who have lost their jobs.
Abus Hossain, advisor of the National Domestic Women Workers Union (NDWWU), told The Business Standard, "We placed an application to the ministry of labour in the middle of May to provide relief to domestic workers. We also applied to the ministry of relief. But no initiative was taken by them."
Nasima Begum, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, said, "The government must initiate assistance for these domestic workers."
She said the NHRC will consult with the concerned officials of the government regarding this.