Bangladesh RMG workers left in the lurch amid coronavirus shutdown

Owners’ indecision blamed

Staff Correspondent | Published: 00:57, Apr 06,2020 | Updated: 15:40, Apr 06,2020


A wave of home-goers breaks army cordon to board a ferry at Shimulia ghat in Munshiganj on Sunday after a last-minute decision to extend the holiday for garment workers until April 14. — Sourav Lasker

Indecision of factory owners and lack of coordination among the government agencies multiplied the sufferings of readymade garment workers, labour leaders and experts said on Sunday.

They said that thousands of workers on Friday and Saturday were forced to return to their work locations in Dhaka and its adjacent areas amid the countrywide shutdown.

Export-oriented garment factory owners were allowed by the government to reopen factories on April 5 while the number of novel virus infections and death was on the rise.

Blaming indecision of RMG factory owners, trade union leaders demanded closure of all factories to protect workers from infections, besides demanding payment of wages and coronavirus protective equipment for the workers.   

Transparency International Bangladesh on Sunday in a statement also condemned the factory owners for exposing workers to health risks violating their health rights.

TIB said that the insensitive act of factory owners which was detrimental to public interest had put tens of thousands of workers as well as people at large at higher risk of getting infected.

TIB considered it a violation of safety and health rights of RMG workers who were under pressure from the factory owners to rush to their workplaces in extremely adverse conditions fearing loss of jobs as the country was still under lockdown.

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 production at factories from Sunday amid the nationwide shutdown announced to fight the spread of coronavirus.

However, on Sunday morning most workers could not enter their factories as the authorities of a good number of factories chose not resume work without any prior notice after the BGMEA and the BKMEA urged their members at midnight to keep factories shut till April 11, labour leaders said.

Due to the closure of factories, workers decided to go back to their village homes on Sunday on local transports and on foot.

‘There are two reasons behind the sufferings of the readymade garment sector workers. There is this lack of coordination among the ministries as government agencies failed to determine the health risk of the RMG workers and the delayed decision issued by the apparel trade bodies to keep their units closed,’ Centre for Policy Dialogue research director Khondoker Golam Moazzem told New Age on Sunday.

He said that the government agencies were not giving the same priority in assessing the health risks involving the RMG workers.

Moazzem also said that the leaders of the apparel trade bodies should have tried to keep their units shut through negotiation with brands and buyers amid the outbreak of the pandemic.

He said factory owners should pay wages to the workers within a very short time as they had been made to rush to the city.

‘We are not machines, we are human beings. We deserve dignity and respect and decent livelihood,’ Combined Garment Workers Federation president Nazma Akter said.

Nazma urged the government, factory owners and buyers to pay workers and stop their sufferings in the apparel sector that engages over 40 lakh workers.

About the payment of wages, BGMEA president Rubana Huq said they urged all of their members to clear wages for March as early as possible.

‘A cell has been set up to assist BGMEA members in this regard,’ she added.

According to the industrial police data, there were a total of 3,371 RMG and textile units under the jurisdiction of the agency across the country and of them 578 factories were open on Sunday. 

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