The deadly Covid-19 pandemic has so far brought nothing but a string of bad news for Bangladesh, hitting the country with shutdown of companies, unemployment, salary cuts and unpaid wages.
Amid such scenario, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) has revealed that the workers' wages in Bangladesh have increased by 6.10 percent in April and 5.89 percent in May this year, compared to the same period previous year.
The BBS disclosed this information in the latest issue of the Wage Rate Index (WRI), adding that workers' wages have increased by 6.46 percent in March this year, compared to the same month previous year.
However, several experts think that the latest BBS data regarding labour wages lacks consistency with data from different foreign and domestic research organisations, and is disconnected from the current reality in the country.
Data from the international financial institution World Bank projected that the rate of extreme poverty in Bangladesh has increased from 12.8 percent last year to 21.8 percent in 2020. Another 15.17 million extreme poor has joined the already existing 21.58 million in the country.
Experts believe that the number of extremely poor people increased to 36.75 million in Bangladesh due to a decrease in labour wages.
The BBS report stated that the overall inflation in the country in April was 5.96 percent, and workers' wages increased by 6.10 percent. In May, workers' wages increased by 5.89 percent against overall inflation of 5.35 percent.
So, according to the BBS data, the real income and purchasing power of the workers have increased.
Responding to query, Planning Minister MA Mannan told The Business Standard, "The increase of wages exceeding the inflation is a matter of relief for the economy. As a minister, I am delighted with the information.
"However, it is also true that the income of many has decreased in the last two months due to unemployment. The calculations might have been carried out excluding those people."
He continued, "The government has concerns regarding the unemployed people, and it is taking initiatives regarding the issue. It is providing food aid to 40 lakh families and cash assistance to another 50 lakh people.
"Around 37.5 million people will reap the benefits of these initiatives. Relief efforts – supervised by secretaries – have also been launched in every district."
Adding that there are some inefficiency at both the government and non-government levels, the minister said the BBS also suffers from the issue. However, he assured that the quality of BBS data is steadily increasing.
Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist at the World Bank's Dhaka office, said, "Demand for labourers have declined, but the supply of labourers remained unchanged. Under any economic rules, it is beyond any explanation that the wages and income of the labourers have increased.
"The economy remained shut down for a long time. Uncountable number of people has lost their jobs. It is not realistic that real or even the nominal wages have increased in the previous three months."
When approached for comments regarding how the wages increased compared to the previous year, BBS Director General Tajul Islam asked The Business Standard whether the wages have increased or decreased.
After informing him that the BBS report said the wages have increased, Tajul Islam said, "The wages should have decreased at this period. But I will not be able to make any comments without taking a look at the report."
The bureau's National Accounting Wing (CPI) Director Abdul Quadir Mia was directly involved with preparing the report. However, The Business Standard could not reach him on phone through calls and messages despite numerous attempts.
In a recent report, jointly released by BRAC, DataSense and Unnayan Shamannay, stated that around 54 million people in the informal sector are at financial risk because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak, the income of 74 percent families has decreased, 1,116 factories have closed and 22 lakh workers lost their jobs.
Another joint research conducted by the Brac Institute of Governance Development (BIGD) and PPRC stated that 71 percent people have become temporarily unemployed due to the deadly virus.
The poor people have slashed their food expenses by 40 percent in April compared to March this year. Twenty-seven percent people are no longer getting three square meals each day.
Dr Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI) and chairman of the Brac Bank, said, "This report is absolute rubbish. It could be possible to increase wages of agricultural labour on a temporary basis.
"However, employment, wages and earnings of all other sectors have dropped drastically in previous three months."
He further said, "The government is usually preparing and implementing long term and medium term policies using the statistics of the BBS, and that is why the national statistics organisation should provide quality data in order to maintain proper and balanced development."