Bangladesh apparel factory workers rush back amid shutdown

Swachip leader dubs influx, factory opening suicidal

Muktadir Rashid | Published: 22:36, Apr 04,2020 | Updated: 00:29, Apr 05,2020


Dhaka-bound passengers, mostly apparel workers, travel packed on trucks while many try alternative means of transports on Aricha highway at Utholi in Manikganj amid countrywide shutdown for coronavirus situation as holiday at garment factories expired on Saturday. — New Age photo

Hundreds of thousands of garment workers used local transports, ferries and even walked to reach back to their places of employment in Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj, among others, as their owners were set to resume productions at factories from today amid the nationwide shutdown announced to fight the spread of coronavirus.

As Bangladesh government has allowed garment owners to open their factories from April 5, many workers travelled on public transports to join work risking transmission of coronavirus as to be in default would only mean loss of jobs.

During the mad rush on Saturday, at least two apparel workers of separate factories in Gazipur and Dhaka were killed and two other injured as a CNG-run auto-rickshaw carrying them was hit by a potato-laden truck in Mymensingh at about 1:00pm, the police said. 

Different labour organisations and health rights activists denounced the government for allowing garment owners to open their factories forcing a mad influx of workers.

Some called it inhuman since people had to walk for miles during the shutdown when there was ban on public transports, which will continue until April 11.

President of Swadhinata Chikitsak Parishad  professor Iqbal Arsalan said that allowing thousands of  people to rush towards the capital for joining mills and factories was akin to an act suicide.

‘We are increasing the risk factors by allowing them to come to Dhaka and join work as physical distance cannot be maintained at factories. This should have been done at least a week later,’ he said. 

The government on Saturday extended the ongoing ban on public transports on roads till April 11 to prevent the spread of the novel virus, according to a release issued by the Road Transport and Highways Division.

All goods-laden vehicles, vehicles running under emergency services, vehicles carrying fuels, medicines, perishable products and relief materials would remain out the purview of the ban, it said, adding that no passengers would allowed on goods-laden vehicles.

Khokon Masud, a worker of Southern Garments, was seen along with few others near Saydabadh bus terminal in the capital at about 3:40pm as they were marching towards Ashulia on the outskirts of Dhaka.

‘We are coming from Cumilla. We got on trucks three times on our way to Dhaka and then at last we started walking as we are told that our factory will open tomorrow [April 5]. We have no other alternatives but to join work without delay,’ Khokon said while hoping to get a vehicle to reach his work location.

He said his company received orders from giant buyers in the US and Europe and they would have to meet their deadlines.

Another worker of TSS-Fashion in Mowchak of Gazipur was seen on foot in Mugda area at 4:00pm along with five other colleagues. 

He said, ‘I am risking my life while on my way to Gazipur to join my factory tomorrow. It is my livelihood. I do not understand the policy of the government since they kept everything closed except for garment factories.’ 

At about 4:15pm, a motorised rickshaw was seen carrying three passengers to Gazipur. One of them was Rahima Begum, a swing machine operator of Beacon Knitwear Limited.

She told New Age that their factory would start operation from today and they were travelling from Barishal to reach their workplace. They came by pickup-van, boats and rickshaw, among other modes of transports.    

New Age correspondent in Barishal reported that many people rushed to Rupatali and Natullabad inter-district bus terminals of in the city ignoring directions for maintaining physical distance.

Abdul Huq and Nasrin Begum, both workers of garment factories in Dhaka and Gazipur, reached Natullabad on Saturday. They said they heard that their factories would open from Sunday, so they were trying desperately to reach their workplaces.

Abdus Sobhan, a worker of a private company, also said that he came to the Rupatali bus terminal area to find out how to reach Dhaka via different alternative routes riding on rented motorcycle, three-wheeler, truck, pickup or cargo-van as his office would resume on Sunday.

Nazmul Huda, a magistrate of Barishal district administration, admitted that people thronging the streets at different points to reach Dhaka were ignoring social distancing regulations.

He said that they, with the help of different law enforcing agencies, tried to enforce the regulations.

Manikganj correspondent reported that thousands of garment factory workers gathered at Paturia ferry terminal and on Dhaka-Aricha highway since Saturday morning after enjoying 10 days of leave announced by the government on March 23.

They said they were heading towards their respective garment factories located in Dhamraia, Savar, Ashulia and other adjacent areas in Dhaka.

They could not maintain physical distance while they were on road.

A female RMG worker was seen standing at Manikganj bus stand at around 3:00pm. She along with her 4-year-old daughter was waiting for a vehicle to reach her factory location at Dhamrai.

The woman from Baliakhora village of Ghior upazila of Manikganj said that she was scheduled to join her office Saturday but she would not be able to reach till Saturday afternoon.

Monjur Hossain, executive magistrate of the Deputy Commissioner’s Office in Manikganj, said they could not stop the rush after taking all measures on the part of the administration.

Munshiganj correspondent also reported that people, mostly workers, gathered at Shimulia-Kathalbari inland ports while heading towards Dhaka and its adjacent districts. People were seen on packed ferries without maintaining physical distance.

Despite the ban on public transport, people were seen using auto-rickshaws and pickup-vans to reach Dhaka.

Shimulia inland port assistant manager Shafayet Ahmed said they operated five ferries on Shimulia-Kathalbari route on Saturday and most of the passengers were workers travelling to join their workplaces today.

New Age correspondent from Mymenshigh reported that two garment workers Momen Miah alias Saiful Islam, 32, of Epyllion Group and Nazma Akhter, 20, of Dharla Fashion Ltd were killed and two others injured when their CNG-run auto-rickshaw was hit by a good-laden truck at Swapnarmore in the district at about 1:00pm.

Kotwali police station sub-inspector Khorshed Alam said that they were heading towards their workplaces and their ID cards helped in determining their identities.

Bangladesh Garment Sramik Sanghati in a statement said that the government was implementing dual policies in the country by extending public vacation until April 11 for most office goers while allowing garment owners to open their factories from April 5.

They called on the government and owners to take responsibilities so that no worker would face health and livelihood risk.

‘This is insane…resuming factories while general holiday has been extended, putting workers and community in danger of getting infected,’ said Kalpana Akhter, president of Bangladeshi Garment and Industrial Workers Federation. 

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