Workers in tattered clothes and equipped with tools for different jobs gather at three labourers' haats (markets) in Cumilla, every day, to offer their labour.
Two of these haats take place at Kandirpar in Cumilla city and Suagazi area, Sadar Dakshin upazila, at dawn. The third one occurs in Bijoypur, Sadar Dakshin upazila in the afternoon.
Day labourers gather at these traditional haats hoping to be hired, but they have not found jobs on a regular basis since the novel coronavirus pandemic hit the country.
Workers said in normal times around 5,000 labourers are hired, daily, at these haats in February, May, August, September, and November, which are the peak seasons for planting and harvesting different types of rice and potato.
At other times of the year around 3,000 workers, most of whom are construction workers, are hired at these haats every day.
However, the workers said very few labourers were hired in Cumilla during the last season for cultivating Aush paddy as vehicle movement across the country was halted during the general holidays over the Covid-19 pandemic and the demand for workers has not returned to normal – even though transport systems have resumed services.
As a result, many workers have not been able to find work for 10-20 days of a month.
Agricultural and construction workers are paid Tk650 per day for the tasks they carry out, while workers who offer home maintenance services are paid Tk450 per day.
Some of these labourers work on contract basis for a salary of Tk8,000-10,000 per month.
Most of these workers come from: Habiganj, Sunamganj, Gaibandha, Rangpur, Bogura, Chapainawabganj, Noakhali, Nilphamari, Thakurgaon, Brahmanbaria, Chandpur, Kurigram, and Cumilla.
Khanjab Ali, a labourer from Habiganj, said he and 20 other workers live in a mess in the Ashoktala area. Currently, they have not been finding jobs on a regular basis like they did before the pandemic, but the landlord has not waived their rent.
Khanjab Ali is without work for around 15 days in a month now, which is making it extremely difficult for him to bear the expenses of his family of five members.
Azizul, another worker from Thakurgaon district, said he had to provide for his parents, wife and two school-going daughters.
He earns Tk8,000 per month by offering home maintenance services and cleaning drains, but more than half of it is spent on his meals and accommodation in Cumilla city.
Another worker from Chapainawabganj Delowar said he provides home maintenance services for Tk400 per day, but currently he cannot find any job for around 10 days in a month. He, too, is having a difficult time bearing the expenses of his family.
Regarding the plight of the workers, Cumilla Deputy Commissioner Abul Fazal Mir said, "The district administration will bear a labourer's travel cost if he has financial problems. We are providing assistance to many labourers."
"However, arranging their accommodation is expensive. The district administration does not have a place or the money to accommodate such a large number of workers," he added.
Some of these workers come to Cumilla for two-to-three months, while many of them stay there for years if they can find suitable jobs or places to stay. Meanwhile, many others leave the place quickly if they cannot find jobs for some days at a stretch.
Many of these workers live in messes, verandas of schools, station platforms, and cheap hotel rooms that cost Tk50-200 per night – until they find jobs.
A small number of workers live in the slums of Cumilla.