Bangladesh Hotel Restaurant Sweetmeat Sramik Federation has written to the prime minister asking for support
As a waiter of an eatery in the capital's Fakirapool area, Abul Bashar used to earn Tk4,000 per month. A good amount of tips from customers supplemented his income and allowed him to support his wife and two children.
Then the novel coronavirus broke out in Bangladesh and most people stopped going out for food. Low customer turnout cut his income in half.
As the government imposed a countrywide shutdown in March to control the spread of the virus, the owner of the eatery stopped paying salaries from that month, choking off all sources of income for Bashar.
A man who, even just a few months ago, had been serving food to other people, could no longer put food on his own table.
His meagre amount of savings ran out within a few days. So, Bashar sold all his wife's jewellery to pay the Tk8,500 rent for his house in Mugda Para.
For a while, Bashar was able to meet the cost of three meals a day for his family. In May, however, all that money also ran out. The family had to survive just on muri (puffed rice) soaked in water for some three days.
On the fourth day, the frustrated couple decided to commit suicide.
"I cannot bear to see the look of constant hunger on my children's faces, nor my wife's tears," he said. "That is why I took that decision. I also have some debts and the lenders are asking me to repay them. I am under a lot of stress."
Anwar Hossain, secretary of the Bangladesh Hotel Restaurant Sweetmeat Sramik Federation, said, "After learning about Bashar's situation, I immediately went to his house, provided him with whatever money he needed and gave him mental support."
However, many other food industry workers have come to the same decision, he said, adding that the federation is trying to provide support to these workers to the best of its abilities.
"Between April and May, we wrote to the labour ministry several times, mentioning our ordeal, but we did not get any reply from them. Finally, on June 22, we sent a letter to the prime minister and are waiting for her response," Anwar said.
Tushar Arif, another food service worker, has also been going without food for several days. With no other options left, he went to sell jackfruit on the footpath, but had to go back empty-handed as police evicted him.
"I am the sole earner of my family. I have two siblings and old parents. They can eat only if I earn and give them money," Arif said with tears in his eyes. "I have not been able to earn a single penny in the last three months."
Jainal Abedin, joint secretary of the Bangladesh Hotel Restaurant Sweetmeat Sramik Federation, said thousands of workers are in a similar situation now and the federation is trying to support them.
However, the federation's resources are limited.
"There are about 20 lakh hotel, restaurant and sweetmeat workers across the country," Abedin said.