The Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) has said the government neglected the protection of livelihoods of the working class in its business-friendly budget for the fiscal year 2021-22.
At a press conference titled "Bills' recommendations on the proposed national budget for FY 2021-22" on Monday, BILS' leaders described the government's reluctance to formulate a labour-friendly budget as suicidal for the country's economy.
The organisation called on the government to take steps to create a complete database of working people and to provide necessary allowances in line with the increase in commodity prices. It insisted on making a budget allocation for that purpose.
Experts recommended the formulation of a universal pension scheme for workers, re-employment and a plan to vaccinate workers.
"There are movement restrictions at local and international levels during the second wave of Covid-19. As a result, the income of workers has fallen. Many have lost their jobs and many are suffering from job insecurity. Many are living out of their savings," said BILS Deputy Director (Research) Md Monirul Islam.
Labour migration abroad has also dropped significantly to around 2,00,000 people a year. In previous years, the average figure was about six lakh people. Over the past few months, many migrant workers have been forced to return to the country because of Covid-19, he added.
Other recommendations by the organisation are formulating specific action plans for training of manpower to be recruited in 100 Special Economic Zones and 39 high-tech parks and modernisation and resumption of 25 state-owned jute mills.
BILS also suggested implementation of the budget to protect the employment-oriented micro, small and medium enterprise sector, providing unemployment benefits to unemployed workers and establishing Covid-19 specialised medical centres in labour-intensive industrial areas.
Experts also recommended taking initiatives to introduce health and accident insurance for workers and their family members, enhancing employment opportunities abroad, and allocating an increased budget for skill development of workers in line with the Five-Year Plan.
BILS Executive Director and Secretary General Nazrul Islam Khan said it would be difficult to revive the economy without giving protection to the working people "who were one of the driving forces of our economy".
He added that everybody, from owners to workers, was supposed to benefit from an industry-focused economy. In this year's budget, "the government has intended to protect industries exclusively but has not taken any steps to protect the workers who are the lifeblood of these industries".
The protection of expatriate workers is not clear in this budget although the employment crisis is prevailing across the world due to the impact of Covid-19. They are the ones sending money home, boosting the economy. The government has failed to create job opportunities for those who have returned, Nazrul said.
He said the budget should have included issues such as social security and employment of workers in the formal and informal sectors, who had lost their jobs due to Covid-19 and those who reached the end of their government service.
BILS Advisory Council Member Naimul Ahsan Jewel said, "The government had made the proposed budget business-friendly, which is okay. The problem is there are no plans and allocation for supporting small traders."
Noting that it was not possible to disburse aid given by the European Union to the export-oriented industrial sector due to the lack of a database, he said millions of workers had fallen below the poverty line because of Covid-19.
He stressed the need for a complete database to help these workers.