Informal sector workers hit hard by lockdown

It’s the fifth day of the lockdown and it has already disrupted the lives of millions in Nepal. Only essential businesses such as grocery, pharmacies, hospitals, banks and petrol stations are operating, leaving informal traders and workers unsure how they are going to survive if the lockdown extends

Arpana Adhikari Mar 29, 2020
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Kathmandu: It’s the fifth day of the lockdown and it has already disrupted the lives of millions in Nepal. Only essential businesses such as grocery, pharmacies, hospitals, banks and petrol stations are operating, leaving informal traders and workers unsure how they are going to survive if the lockdown extends.

Earlier this month, Gopal Rai, his four children and wife lived modestly on the money brought home by him, a construction worker who temporarily lives in a rented room at Mandikhatar.

Unfortunately, this virus containment measures taken by the government have shut down his informal work. Rai finds himself among many vulnerable workers of the informal sector who are now having a hard time to arrange livelihood for their families.

He has begged his neighbours and landlord to arrange some means to manage foods for his family. But all his efforts went in vain.

“Since most families who are rented in this house are either construction workers or housemaids, everyone is facing the same crisis. My family has rice and beans that will last only for a week,” Rai said.

“We have a group of 15 labourers who work as construction labourers. But after the reduction in construction activity in Kathmandu, amid efforts to contain the virus, we all are finding it difficult to sustain our family.”

He said the government took such a decision without adequate preparation.
Shanu Maya Tamang, a 32 year-old household worker of Chandol, has been without work for last five days, as all her landlords have asked her to stay home due to fear of virus.
Tamang, who was left by her husband some 10 years ago, has been raising her three children by working as household worker.

“I have been earing Rs 12,000 per month. But I suspect that this month my landlords will deduct my salary because it’s already been five days I have been out of work. If the lockdown continues then they will surely not pay the full salary.”

Shanu Maya said she doesn’t have savings to fall back on. “Whatever I earn, I immediately have to spend to feed my children and arrange livelihood. We only have enough food and cooking gas for a week. After that I don’t know what to do.”

Ram Sharan Thapa, a 37 year-old street vendor, who sells garments at Ratopul, said in the past two weeks his business had sharply declined. “That is when the struggle began; we are the people that survive from the hand to the mouth on a weekly basis.”

In a good week, Ram Sharan said he makes up to Rs. 4,000 that goes to feed his two children and diabetic wife.

“During this lockdown, I am staying at a rented room near Kalopul. This is a difficult time. I don’t have any savings. My business was already dropped off before the lockdown. We are not in a position to save,” he shared his worries.

He doesn’t know how he will survive, if the lockdown continues for more weeks. “I am unsure how I will pay the rent. I am unable to buy enough food for two weeks.”
Raj Kumar Karki of Radhe Radhe, Bhaktapur who works as a salesman at a local sweets factory is worried because his daily earning dropped before a week and now he is living without work.

He shared his worries that he would be unable to feed his five-member family, if the lockdown continues for more weeks.

Like Shanu Maya, Gopal Rai, Ram Sharan and Raj Kumar there are millions of people who work in informal sector and cannot afford to purchase food grains and other essentials for more than a week.

Nepal has one of the highest proportions of informal employment in the world, highest in the Asia Pacific Region, with over 94 per cent of the country’s workforce engaged in informal jobs, a 2018 report of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) shows.
Informal workers are now jobless because of restrictions on businesses and movement meant to stem the spread of the virus.

This has added to the woes of many daily earners like, vendors, domestic helpers, construction labourers and porters. And this closure may make the survival of this workforce difficult, who earn less than a living wage.
The rights activists and social campaigners have expressed their worries that the daily wage earners might face a hard time to feed their hunger, if the lockdown continues for more weeks.

Of late, social media like Facebook and Twitter are flooded with the posts demanding for the safety net to ensure survival of daily wage earners and workers in informal sector during the lockdown.

Some local bodies like Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) and Kothekhola Gaunpalika, among others, have already announced to safeguard the interests of daily earners.
The government has already assured that no one would die of hunger during the nationwide lockdown, said Narayan Prasad Bidari, Secretary at the Office of Prime Minister, who is also the member of high level coordination committee formed to prevent and control COVID-19.
“The government has already instructed local bodies to identify the needy people in their respective areas and provide information to the federal government,” said Bidari.

The government faced a tough time to identify the fake victims after the massive earthquake of 2015. Because of that many fake victims received relief by producing fake documents, said Bidari, adding, “Learning from that experience, the government will first identify the real victims and ensure their survival in this crisis.”

He further added that the Ministry of Finance had been working on to find out how much financial burden this would cause.

“This issue is under consideration. The high level committee has been holding discussion over this issue and would come up with a concrete policy soon,” he added.  

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