When the world is set to observe International Workers’ Day on Saturday to commemorate the labor of workers worldwide, nearly 3 million hotel and restaurant workers in Bangladesh have been passing through a critical course due to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
Since the global virus was first detected in Bangladesh in March last year, most of the hotels and restaurants in the overcrowded South Asian nation of 165 million people have been closed for more than five months due to the nationwide lockdown imposed by the government to stem the spread of the disease.
“My hotel was first closed on March 24, 2020, and resumed around five months later on Aug. 9 of the year. It was again closed on April 5 this year and is still continuing due to the fresh lockdown,” Mohammad Alauddin, a worker of a hotel in the capital Dhaka’s Saidabad area, told Anadolu Agency.
Bangladeshi authorities declared a nationwide lockdown for the second term on April 5 and extended it to May 5 in the wake of the worsening pandemic situation with an average of 100 daily fatalities, pushing the total figure to nearly 11,500, and caseload to 760,000.
Alauddin claimed that despite working for years in the hotel without any overtime and weekend facilities, the hotel owner has not arranged any incentive for them. “Almost six months in the last one year I had no income.”
Terming hotel workers’ job as a thankless profession, he asked: “What’s the benefit of my early morning till midnight services?”
'Meaningless' May Day
Describing May Day as "meaningless" to them, Alauddin said: “I hardly remember the day as it doesn’t make any change in my life. Sometimes my other colleagues take part in May Day rallies just to have colorful t-shirts.”
Underlining the frequent reports on the government’s special incentives for garment workers, farmers, and others, he said: “There is no care for us as if we are not the citizens of this country. I hope our issue will be addressed immediately.”
Like Alauddin, many hotel and restaurant workers now live in different city slums or congested bachelor messes at different low scale areas in Dhaka, sending their families to village homes.
“Even I can’t supply minimum money for my family in the village. They have to suffer starvation frequently,” another hotel worker Sheikh Rubel said.
Mohammad Solaeman, who has been working as a hotel worker for more than two decades in Dhaka’s Fakirapool area, said: “We are suffering from an acute financial crisis in this holy month of Ramadan. My children are waiting for me to go shopping on the occasion of the upcoming Eid-al-Fitr. But I know I don’t fulfill their expectations.”
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, general secretary of Bangladesh Hotel Restaurant Sweetmeat Workers Federation, a local workers’ rights platform, Anwar Hossain said that the 2017 government gazette fixed the minimum wage of hotel workers at 3,000 Bangladeshi taka ($35), with a maximum of 18,900 taka ($217).
“This is a very low figure for survival with minimal human needs,” Hossain said, adding that the hotel workers somehow manage their families depending on the tips of the customers. “But due to the lockdown, they are now completely incomeless.”
Only 2% ‘A Grade’ workers
Citing their official data, Hossain added: “Currently there are nearly 3 million hotel and restaurant workers across the country and approximately 2% are ‘A Grade’ workers enjoying the highest wage and more than 80% belong to ‘C Grade’ with the lowest payment and the rest are in ‘B Grade,’ with a wage of 9,900 taka ($114).”
He urged the government to immediately take steps for arranging incentives for these workers in collaboration with the hotel and restaurant owners. “I hope the government will declare a good incentive for us on this May Day.”
The 1st day of May is observed as May Day globally in commemoration of the 1886 massive movement of a group of workers in Chicago city of the US demanding for an eight-hour workday. Many of them were brutally shot dead by police.
Hossain said: “Just after the country’s main exporting readymade garment sector, this is one of the highest workers-oriented arenas and millions of people are dependent on them.”
Neglecting the basic needs of this high number of working people, the country's development can never be sustained, he added.
On April 13, hotel and restaurant workers held a rally in Dhaka and submitted a seven-point demand to the prime minister’s office that included 10,000 taka ($115) monthly cash support and food rations during the lockdown.
Assurance of solving crisis
State Minister for Labor and Employment Monnujan Sufian told Anadolu Agency that the government was very sincere for workers’ rights since the very beginning of the pandemic.
“If hotel owners apply for the help of their workers, the prime minister must help them. I urge them to immediately submit a prayer to my ministry specifying what they need to help their workers,” she said.
The minister added that there was a wage board for hotel and restaurant workers with a judge on the chair and every fifth year the board decides wage structure.
“It is true that, excepting some big hotels, in most cases, the workers are not paid as per the provision,” Sufian said.
She urged workers’ leaders to hold dialogue with the owners immediately and file an application to the concerned ministry.
Addressing hotel and restaurant workers as “significant human resources of the country,” she assured that the government would address their issue immediately.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.