Noor Khan shouts throughout the day to attract passengers for Kotalipara Star Express buses at the company’s counter in Gabtoli, Dhaka. He earns Tk 300-500 a day on a no-work-no-pay basis.
On Thursday, only one bus of the company left the terminal and other trips were scrapped because of a lack of passengers.
“I may get Tk 100 today. But I didn’t earn anything when no buses ran in a day,” said Noor, with signs of frustration clear in his voice and face. He failed to secure enough money to spend for his wife and daughter.
A blockade enforced by the BNP and its allies demanding the resignation of the government before general elections has disrupted life, especially the transport system, heavily in Bangladesh.
Arson attacks targeting buses have occurred during the protest programme, spreading fears among the people. A transport worker died in one of the attacks on a parked bus when he was asleep early in the morning.
“Transport workers do not belong to the Awami League or the BNP. We won’t allow someone to grab power at the cost of our lives. Why should we sacrifice our lives for them [politicians] to come to power?” said Osman Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation.
He said they applied to the government for financial assistance during programmes like blockades or general strikes.
Mozammel Hossain, a worker who sleeps in a parked bus at Gabtoli terminal, said the owner pays them Tk 200 each when there is no work because of the opposition blockade.
“I need Tk 10 to go to the toilet. A bath costs me Tk 20-30,” he said.
Bus driver Mohammad Ali said he is forced to sleep in the vehicle despite mosquito attacks and other sorts of discomfort as a hotel room would cost him Tk 150 a day.
“And I need to eat, go to the toilet and bathe. How can I do all these things with Tk 200?” he said.
Another driver, Shahidur Rahman, said they wanted to take the buses out, but there was no passenger.
“We’ll suffer further losses if we don’t get passengers. If this continues, transport workers will die starving.”