Low incomes shrink further
The already low incomes of skilled and unskilled workers have been squeezed further for last month's countrywide lockdown, making it more difficult for them to stay afloat amid the Covid-19 fallout.
Their general wage growth dropped by 25 basis points to 5.72 per cent in July compared to that in June, according to the Wage Rate Index (WRI) of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).
In June, it was 5.97 per cent, which was 44 basis points down from May's 6.41 per cent. July's rate was the lowest since 2014, according to the BBS.
The WRI is intended to measure the movement of nominal wages of low-paid skilled and unskilled labour from 44 occupations -- 11 from agriculture, 22 from industrial and 11 from the service sectors.
It is also an indicator for measuring trends and changes in aggregate wages of a country's wage earners.
As for the rate's sector-wise drops in July, it was by 30 basis points to 5.81 per cent in agriculture, 20 basis points to 5.39 per cent in industrial and 10 basis points to 5.96 per cent in service sectors.
The downturn came on the back of workers being unable to go to work for a majority of last month for the restrictions.
The situation had turned dire, for living expenses of families had to be met amid a continuous price hike of daily essentials. Declining earnings significantly affected food intake and nutrition.
"I could not earn half of my monthly average income. I had to struggle to meet the living expenses of my five-member family," said Idris Ali, a CNG-run auto-rickshaw driver plying on the Mohammadpur-Dohar route.
He said at times they cut back food intake to the minimum.
Though general inflation fell by 28 basis points to 5.36 per cent in July from 5.46 per cent in June, it was still higher than May's 5.26 per cent and that of previous months.
Its reflections came about through disruptions faced by the supply chain and the rise in the cost of living.
Division-wise, the wage rate dropped by 20 basis points to 5.75 per cent in July from the previous month's 5.95 per cent in Dhaka and by 17 basis points to 5.77 per cent in Chattogram.
It fell by 32 basis points to 5.45 per cent in Rajshahi, 54 basis points to 6.20 in Rangpur, 5 basis points to 5.87 per cent in Khulna, 14 basis points to 5.57 per cent in Barishal, and 40 basis points to 5.50 per cent in Sylhet.
The BBS shows nominal wage growth at a rate higher than the headline inflation rate, implying real wages increased despite all the disruptions in the economy, pointed out Zahid Hussain, a former lead economist of the World Bank's Dhaka office.
The increase was the fastest in the production sub-sector of industry and in services. It was the slowest in construction and fisheries where real wages declined, he said.
Some of this data can be explained while others are puzzling, said Hussain.
One can explain the decline in wage growth in agriculture by reverse migration of workers from urban to rural areas because of the lockdown, he said.
The latter may also have adversely affected the marketing of fisheries as supply chains were disrupted, which in turn reduced real wages, he added.
Construction activities in the private sector came to a sudden stop, which can explain the decline in real wages in this industrial sub-sector, said Hussain.
"What is most puzzling, however, is the increase in real wages in services. This is a sector hit hardest by the virus and the lockdown. Yet nominal wage growth in services stayed 30 basis points ahead of headline inflation," he said.
Nominal wage growth was highest in the production sub-sector of industry even though small scale production units, which are most employment intensive, were struggling to keep their units running, he said.
How the production establishment in industry managed to pay their low paid skilled and unskilled workers over 2 per cent higher real wages in July relative to July last year is extremely hard to fathom, he added.