The COVID-19 shutdown has affected virtually every part of the maritime industry, including the South Asian shipbreakers who dispose of the overwhelming majority of the industry’s outdated tonnage.
In Alang, the leading ship recycling center in the region, shipbreakers have lost about 75 percent of their migrant workforce, as workers were forced to return home during the shutdown. The shipbreaking yards are looking for replacement employees but the effort is complicated by the need for government-mandated training, companies told Indian outlet Down to Earth.
Vidyadhar Rane, the head of the Alang-Sosiya Ship Recycling and General Workers Association, said that the current disruption also illustrated the need to formalize the irregular labor practices that characterize the industry. “It is high time that the government and ship breakers come together to provide regular employment with social security benefits to labourers,” Rane told Down to Earth.
In Bangladesh, officials have imposed a strict lockdown that has hit migrant shipbreaking laborers particularly hard. Migrant workers are not eligible for the government aid given to local workers; many are owed back pay from their employers; and they cannot return home because public transportation is shut down, according to NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
For the workers, this means financial distress and food insecurity. One of the group’s local affiliates, OSHE Foundation, used donated funds to distribute food and personal protective equipment to 130 shipbreaking workers’ families. Each family received a package of rice, potatoes, wheat flour, lentils, cooking oil, salt, sugar, tea, potato, onion, chickpeas, puffed rice and one re-usable face mask and hand soap, ensuring subsistence for at least 10 to 15 days.
“Work has been stopped for many days. We are having a hard time with our families. I can’t get any help from anywhere. Such support from OSHE at this time has saved us. We will be able to spend the next days in peace,” a worker named Quddus told the NGO.
“With the food packages distributed by OSHE, at least the workers are not compelled and exploited to go back to the yards and risk exposure to not only the extremely contagious COVID-19 virus in a society where many are deprived of accessing proper medical care, but also to the many dangers shipbreaking involves,” said Sara Rita Da Costa, project officer for NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
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