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Understanding the Plight of Day Laborers in Dhaka

Day laborers are one of the major contributors in the informal economy of Bangladesh. In order to find evidence on multidimensional poverty and inclusive growth in Dhaka, Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) carried out a comprehensive research project in 2019 with the support of the World Bank. The qualitative research on 25 communities across Dhaka city captured  the diversity of the urban poor experience through themes of gender, space, mobility, community, social capital and aspirations. Day labor was present as a major occupation in 76% of the locations in the PPRC study.

One of the main study areas of the project was the economic  lives of the urban poor in Dhaka. The study found that day labor is one of the main occupations of both the urban poor men and women in the city. Majority of their work comprises brick breaking, mati kata, porter etc. Other common occupations available are rickshaw/van driving, bhangari work, decorating, plumbing, sewing, sorting medical waste, shop keeping and tailoring service.  

Lalbagh in Old Dhaka was selected as one of the sites for field research. These laborers travel from their homes in Kamrangirchar to earn a living. Three kilometers away  from Lalbagh, Kamrangirchar is a large concentration of the urban poor in Dhaka.. Limited work opportunities in Kamrangirchar pushed them to commute to Lalbagh to find work.

Being a part of the informal economy, day laborers are not protected by any minimum wage laws. Hence, the income range for day laborers is only Tk 100 – 500 per day. Even within this range, there exists a stark gender discrimination when it comes to wage payments. “Men are paid around Tk 500 per day, while I earn around Tk 150. We don’t protest against such discrimination because we might lose out on future job opportunities.” said one woman who works as a day laborer in Jurain. Moreover, middlemen between laborers and contractors cut a large portion of the women’s daily income for themselves.  

There are various occupational hazards associated with the job, such as lung diseases from exposure to silica dust, skin diseases, bruises, vision problems etc. It is also difficult for day laborers to take leaves from work. Despite it all, men and women choose this occupation due to the dire need for money. “Taka diya sob chinta bhagan jai (money can take away all the worries).” said another day laborer.

In an industry characterized by arduous toil and instability, day laborers are living hand to mouth. They are struggling every day, only to survive.