Daily and casual workers’ plight appalling | Sunday Observer

Daily and casual workers’ plight appalling

12 April, 2020

The extra one-off payment of Rs. 5,000 to low income families last week and the same amount to Samurdhi beneficiaries, pensioners and the differently-abled,  has been already disbursed, said Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle responding to allegations that the deserving sectors have still not received them.

“We have taken steps through the government mechanism to disburse the funds which will be in the hands of the needy sectors soon,” he said.

Displeasure over the mode of distributing money, through politicians,  was expressed in various quarters, that it would lead to politicisation of the situation and mishandling of funds.

However, daily wage earners and casual employees are in a serious predicament today as most of them have no way to make ends meet due to the prevailing situation which has left them high and dry not knowing when they would see light at the end of the tunnel.

A casual employee is guaranteed work only when it is needed. There is no assurance there will be more work in the future. They are compensated only for the time worked, which means they would not receive paid time-off for holidays. 

The earnings of  daily wage earners are mainly based on the actual working days and the number of hours. Casual workers including carpenters, masons, plumbers, electricians, butchers, cobblers and the corner shops have been thrown out of the frying pan into the fire.  

One could imagine the plight of  these employees and their families who have been left to the confines of homes for almost a month.  The current ‘no work scenario’ has hit many of these families badly.“I am a father of four living a hand to mouth existence. We had something to eat during the first few days, but now we have been left to starve,” said Saman Jayatissa, a fruit seller in Wattala.

Trishaw and bus operators, barbers, tailors, sweep sellers, greengrocers, hawkers and street vendors in Pettah and elsewhere in the country have been deprived of their daily income that kept the family fires burning.

Neither  have the small and micro sector entrepreneurs been spared by the horrendous invisible killer virus.  For those in the sector who took a severe hit from the Easter Sunday attacks, the global pandemic  is a double whammy.

 With economic prospects bleak here and across the globe, the demand for labour in the coming months is expected to slide to its lowest level, dealing a major blow to non-permanent employees such as daily, casual  and the  self-employed not covered by social protection.A labour survey in 2018 revealed that  of the eight million workers in the country, 4.7 million (or 59%) were informal workers. 

The relief measures unfolded by the government last week has provided some respite to the affected sectors of the economy but will the needs of the non-permanent workers be fulfilled is a question that needs to be answered.

Labour  experts say to safeguard the work and income of this group,  relief and incentives offered to companies should be linked to retaining non-permanent worker jobs. 

Concerns of developing countries and the poorer sectors in them have been raised across the world by over 100 global organisations which are calling for debt payment of these countries to be dropped this year.

Major charities including Oxfam and ActionAid International are asking for debt relief which would free more than $25bn (£20 bn) this year.

The number of coronavirus cases crossed  the 1.6 million mark in 209 countries with over 96,000 deaths last week.