Trade union leaders and labour rights activists were concerned over the government’s decision to allow reopening of factories of the export-oriented readymade garment sector amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
They said that it was a conflicting decision, since it would compel workers to come out in hordes when the government was punishing people for going outdoors.
The government on Thursday, for the fifth time, extended the ongoing general holiday till May 5 to fight the coronavirus and asked people to stay at home.
Labour leaders said that it was dangerous to allow reopening of the most labour intensive industries where maintaining social distancing would almost be impossible.
‘One could never depend on factory owners — it is unlikely that that they would ensure workers’ health safety,’ said Bangladesh Trade Union Kendra general secretary Dr Wazedul Islam Khan.
He also said that the workers have already experienced numerous examples of factory owners’ indifference about workers’ safety.
He urged the government to be stricter about health risk of the workers of the highest foreign currency earning sector where over four million workers are involved.
Economist and labour rights activist Anu Mohammad said that if joining duty was safe the government should allow all to join work. ‘Why would the garment workers be an exception?’ he asked.
He said that the decision was controversial and conflicting which would endanger workers’ lives. ‘If the factories were allowed to go for full production why arrange subsidies for them spending public money,’ he asked.
Labour leaders said that it was very much a controversial decision on the part of the government that it declared subsidies for the section and simultaneously allowed owners to continue operation.
They criticised the government due to its failure to ensure workers’ wages and for being proactive in case of reopening the garment sector.
Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity president Taslima Akter observed that the government and factory owners were singing the same tune and finally took the decision to reopen the factories, which would be dangerous for workers’ health.
She said that a number of garment workers were infected with coronavirus at different industrial area where maintaining social distancing was almost impossible.
‘Factory reopening would meand more vulnerability for the workers,’ she said.
She said that if the government could take the responsibility of the garment owners why couldn’t it extend support to the garment workers?
The public administration ministry on Thursday issued a circular in this regard stating that the factories, agricultural sector and public transports would be opened gradually considering the situation.
The circular, however, stated that the management of industries, including pharmaceuticals and production and export-oriented ones, would be allowed to reopen ensuring the workers’ safety and healthcare.
Inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments Shib Nath Roy told New Age that they were not informed about the decision.
He said that maintaining safe distance was challenging in the garment sector as a huge number of workers were employed at the same factories and it was a matter of practice that was not usual for staff or workers.
He said a meeting tomorrow with the state minister would create some scope for discussion on safety issues.
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