Jobless workers await transport SOPs

Over 2,800 lose livelihood because of lockdown in Faisalabad 


Khawar Randhawa May 11, 2020
PHOTO: Reuters REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

FAISALABAD: More than 2,800 transport workers have been rendered jobless in Faisalabad since the imposition of lockdown in March to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic. However, the government has not included them in the Kafalat emergency cash assistance programme for those affected by the crisis, nor prepared any other policy to provide relief to the labourers or allow resumption of transport services under standard operating procedures (SOPs) for ensuring precautionary measures.

Faisalabad Road Transport Workers Union President Mian Shahbaz Ahmad said on Sunday that inter-district and inter-province transport was operated from the government’s general bus stand, city terminal, urban transport society stand and seven stands of wagons and coaches of private sector in Faisalabad.

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He said about 1,500 buses and 1,350 vans entered and left the city daily with passengers before the lockdown was imposed. He said at least 10 types of workers were involved in keeping the transport plying between the bus stands, including driver, conductor, general worker, cleaner, shopkeeper, hawker, salesman, commission agent, booking clerk, mechanic, rickshaw driver and foreman.

The labour union leader said it is unfortunate that transport workers have not been registered with the existing economic safety network, including the social security and old age benefits institutions. He said several local and national authorities collect taxes of millions of rupees from the transport sector but the employees do not expect any benefit from this contribution.

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Transport Owners Association President Chaudhry Muhammad Aslam said his group had repeatedly appealed to the authorities concerned to prepare SOPs for transporters and assured them that the bus owners would ensure implementation of the approved rules. He said the owners were ready to provide face masks, sanitiser, gloves, hand washing facilities and sanitising walkthrough gates for passengers and staff of incoming and outgoing buses but the transport and district authorities had turned a blind eye to the proposals submitted repeatedly to give relief to thousands of workers who were facing hunger.

“We have delivered ration packs to workers on our own but the transport department has done nothing to alleviate their hardship. Moreover, hundreds of workers associated with private coach terminals are the greatest victims of the Covid-19 pandemic and they had also applied to get benefit from the prime minister’s emergency cash programme, but they got a message from the official helpline number 8171 that they were not entitled to the relief.” He said the attitude of the authorities was adding to the miseries of the transport workers.

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It is estimated that about 90 per cent of transport labourers work on daily wages, having no regular salary package.

A driver, Abdul Majeed, told The Express Tribune that government and private bus owners did not have accurate data of transport workers because they had no interest in protecting their interests, while the labourers had no document to prove their employment.

“After becoming jobless as a result of the lockdown, I am harvesting wheat in the fields with peasants to earn a living while waiting for the transport services to resume,” he said. He added that he was also suffering from respiratory infection.

When contacted, district government spokesperson Muhammad Awais Abid said the finalisation of the SOPs fell in the jurisdiction of Punjab government. He said the district administration was bound to implement the provincial government’s policy, under which the lockdown had been extended till May 31.The spokesperson said the local government department was aware of the plight of transport workers and was awaiting further instructions from the provincial authorities.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2020.

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