RMG workers rush to Dhaka as factories start reopening today

Health ministry expresses infection concern

Staff Correspondent | Published: 00:31, Apr 26,2020


Garment manufacturers will begin to reopen factories on a limited scale with a limited number of workers from today bypassing the opposition of health experts amid coronavirus outbreak in the country. 

The sector people said that they will go for gradual reopening of factories in phases maintaining strict compliance of COVID-19 instructions by the health department.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association leaders said that the knitting and dyeing units of their member factories would be reopened from Sunday and the garment section would be reopened after May 1.

They said that the dyeing factories which are not members of BKMEA but subcontract with the knitwear manufacturers would also reopen today.

 ‘In the initial stage we will run our factories with a limited number of workers who are living nearby our factories and we are requesting our workers who are now living at village homes not to return to workplace,’ Mohammad Hatem first vice president of BKMEA told New Age on Saturday.

However, reports received from districts said that a huge number of workers from distant districts had been returning in groups enduring utter hardship as there was no public transport due to ongoing shutdown. 

Expressing concern at the decision of factory reopening, health ministry additional secretary Habibur Rahman Khan said that all factories, except those engaged in making personal protective equipment or manufacturing medicine and other essentials, should remain closed during the general holiday now extended till May 5.

‘Some ministries are for allowing garment factories to operate on a limited scale during the holiday, but we still believe that the garment factories should remain closed except those engaged in making PPEs,’ he said at a briefing on Saturday.

The public administration ministry on April 23 issued a circular extending the general holiday till May 5. It, however, stated that the management of industries, including pharmaceuticals, productive and export-oriented ones, would be allowed to reopen ensuring the workers’ safety and healthcare. 

Experts and labour leaders expressed concern over allowing the garment factories to operate during the holiday. ‘It will be suicidal,’ Swadhinata Chikitsak Parishad chief Iqbal Arsalan said.

On Friday night, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association in an announcement said that a zone wise staggered approach will be adopted to open the factories in a limited scale.

The trade body directed its member factories not to ask workers who are in their villages to return to Dhaka until factory opening date is announced.

In first phase, BGMEA suggested its member factories to engage only the workers who are living nearby their factories.

The sources said that 198 BGMEA member factories located in Dhaka city will reopen  from today and tomorrow and the units in Gazipur and Mymensingh will reopen on May 2 and 3 respectively.

Factories in Ashulia, Savar and Dhamrai and Manikganj will be reopened on April 28, 29 and 30 respectively while the units in Rupganj, Narsingdi and Kanchpur will be reopened on April 30.

Mohammad Ali Khokon, president of Bangladesh Textile Mills Association, said the member mills, willing to reopen with ensuring the safety measures and other maintenance, will also gradually re-start production from Sunday initially with their respective residential workers.

Garment sector leaders said that there were some orders in their factories those were half done and it is important to reopen factories to complete and ship the orders otherwise manufacturers would have to face order cancelation.

They also said that export orders may shift from Bangladesh due to long lockdown as some of the competitor countries, including Vietnam, have already started production in their factories.  

Meanwhile, state minister for labour Monnujan Sufian on Saturday urged factory owners to pay wages of April and festival allowances to workers in time and not to terminate any worker during the general holiday announced by the government to check coronavirus outbreak.

The state minister made the call in a meeting of the tripartite consultative committee on the present situation of labour sectors held at the secretariat.

The junior minister warned of legal action against the factories which will fail to pay workers in time.   

Following the announcement of general holidays by the government, BGMEA on March 26 recommended its members to keep their units shut up to April 4.

Later, the government extended the holidays till April 11 but allowed export oriented factory owners to run their units.

Hundreds of thousands of garment workers used local transports, ferries and even walked to reach back to their work places on April 4 risking spread of coronavirus. In the face of severe criticism, BGMEA and BKMEA on the mid night of April 4 announced that factories will remain closed in line with the government holidays.

The factory owners and the government were working together to prepare a guideline to reopen RMG factories in limited scale to remain competitive in the global markets as other competitor countries started to open up their factories, and finally decided to start reopening from today.

New Age correspondent in Manikganj reported that the Dhaka and Narayanganj bound crowd of garments workers from different south and southwestern districts was coming in large number.

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