Limited work orders, factory layoffs and dismissals of workers due to the coronavirus outbreak plunged millions of readymade garment workers into uncertainty, Centre for Policy Dialogue observed on Thursday.
At a virtual discussion titled ‘7th Anniversary of Rana Plaza Tragedy: Crisis of Workers and Employers during the Corona Pandemic,’ the local think-tank in its presentation said workers were facing shortage of food which has been becoming acute day by day due to the lockdown measures.
‘Factories with no or limited work, shutting down operation due to health emergencies, and laying off and firing workers have thrown millions of workers into uncertainty,’ it said.
The event was organised a day before the seventh anniversary of Rana Plaza building collapse that took place on April 24, 2013 and killed more than 1,100 people, mostly garment workers.
CPD research director Khondaker Golam Moazzem presented the research work that emphasised effective dialogue between the government, factory owners, workers and global buyers to protect businesses and workers from the current health and economic crisis.
He said that the global brands and buyers should have aligned with the local initiatives taken by the government and manufacturers to fight the pandemic.
Moazzem said that the achievement of the country’s readymade garment sector in the last seven years since the Rana Plaza collapse would be under threat, particularly in decent employment and industrial safety would be jeopardised if the coronavirus-related health risks prolonged.
Citing the claim of a number of trade unions, CPD presentation said that owners were illegally firing workers when they should have taken extra responsibility.
In his presentation, Moazzem said, ‘Given the present health emergency, factories need to remain shut during the ongoing holidays as per the instructions of the government.’
‘It is worrying that a large section of RMG workers and those involved in RMG-related businesses might get affected because they are stationed in Dhaka, Narayangonj and Gazipur, the hotspots of coronavirus outbreak,’ he added.
CPD identified shortage of raw materials, cancellation of orders, and pressure of discounted selling price, late payment from buyers, low export growth and factory shutdown as the most urgent challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moazzem said that the majority of enterprises in the RMG sector had been confronting multiple challenges and risks and had explored multiple ways of adjustments.
He said that delay and cut in wages, factories forcefully operating during lockdown, layoffs, retrenchment and termination, lack of COVID-19 safety measures and coronavirus affected workers had also been identified as the most important challenges in working conditions during this global emergency.
CPD suggested ensuring timely payment of workers’ wages for March, 2020 and April, 2020 and subsequent months during this crisis period.
CPD distinguished fellow Professor Mustafizur Rahman recommended adopting recovery phase with importance saying that both the manufacturers and workers would be affected if the lockdown continues and orders shifted another destinations.
CPD executive director Dr Fahmida Khatun said, ‘Every crisis creates opportunities and Bangladesh needs to utilize it.’
To tap the opportunity which would be created due to the pandemic, factory owners, workers, the government, global buyers and civil society should work together, she said.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association vice president Arshad Jamal Dipu said they are working with the government to formulate a guideline on how to reopen the factories in phases.
He said that any wrong decision might cause shift of business to other competitors and the coronavirus recovery measure should be based on local perspective.
Bangladesh Garment workers Federation president Amirul Haque Amin alleged that influential factory owners were running their units ignoring the government holidays exposing workers to infections.
He said that more than 15 per cent of workers were yet to receive their wages for March. ‘Factory owners who did not pay their workers in time should be brought to book,’ Amin said.
He, however, said Accord and Alliance helped to improve workplace safety after the Rana Plaza incident and urged to allow Accord’s activities unless RMG sustainability council is fully ready to takeover.
Sammilita Garment Shramik Federation president Nazma Akter demanded that the terminated workers be reinstated to their respective workplaces.
She also called for an end to layoffs, clearance of March wages for workers whose payments were still pending and timely disbursal of April wages with Eid festival allowance.
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