Over 500 RMG units reopen in Bangladesh amid coronavirus risks

Thousands rush to workplaces again as uncertainty looms   

Moinul Haque and Rashad Ahamad | Published: 00:00, Apr 27,2020 | Updated: 19:50, Apr 27,2020


People get off from a ferry at Shimulia ferry terminal in Munshiganj travelling from southern districts on Sunday ignoring movement restriction due to COVID-19 spread. — Indrajit Kumer Ghosh

Thousands of readymade garment workers reached their work places in Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Ashulia by local transports, ferries and even on foot to join work as the factories to resume operation from Sunday amid the nationwide shutdown.

Though the government extended the general holiday till May 5, it allowed factories to reopen on a limited scale, spurring a huge influx of people into the COVID-19 hotspots including Dhaka, Narayanganj and Gazipur.

The country’s garment manufacturers on Saturday said that they would start reopening their factories on a limited scale from Sunday and the production in knitting and dyeing units in Narayanganj and garment factories in Dhaka city would be started on the first day but at least 600 factories across the country started production on the day, some in full swing.

Meanwhile, as uncertainty looms over jobs and wages, workers of apparel factories in Dhaka’s Ashulia and in Gazipur continued demonstrations for wages and reinstatement of laid off workers on the day.

Earlier, thousands of apparel workers returned to Dhaka on April 4 to join work amid the shutdown, but the authorities decided not to resume productions in the wake of widespread criticisms.

The experts are of the opinion that the COVID-19 quickly spread across the country during the shutdown as thousands of workers travelled to and from Dhaka and Narayanganj, where the first infections were detected on March 8.

Trade union leaders alleged that although Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association said that the factory will reopen with only the workers who were living nearby, but the factory authorities asked many workers to join work over mobile phones though they were now in their village homes.

They said that workers were in uncertainty over their jobs and payment of wages as they believed that they would not get the wage for April and the festival allowance if they remained absent.

Apparel makers, however, said that few factories started operation with a limited number of workers and the workers who are in village now were asked not to join work.

But some workers were likely to take the decision to reach workplaces out of job insecurity, they said.    

BGMEA official said that approximately 502 member factories of the trade body reopened on Sunday.

The factories that resumed operation are — 25 in Dhaka metropolitan area, 18 in Narayanganj, 129 in Ashulia and Savar, 238 in Gazipur and 92 in Chattogram.

According to the Industrial police data, there were a total of 3372 RMG and textile factories under the jurisdiction of six zones of the agency and 759 units of them were open on Sunday.

Workers swarm into the road of Chittagong Export Processing Zone after office hours on Sunday as most of the RMG factories in the area reopened amid fears of community transmission of the novel coronavirus. — Star Mail photo


Data showed that out of 759 factories, 473 were reopened on Sunday.

Out of 473 units which reopened on Sunday, 332 are the members of BGMEA, 95 are registered with BKMEA and 46 are the members of Bangladesh Textile Mills Association.

‘Although the BGMEA and BKMEA said that factories will be reopened with a limited number of workers who were living nearby the factories, hundreds of workers went back to their workplaces using local transports and other means of transport and even on foot at places from Netrakona, Sherpur and adjacent district from Saturday,’ Tofazzek Hossain, general secretary of Mymensingh district unit of Bangladesh Trade Union Sangha.

He said that managers of many factories asked the workers to join work while many workers reached the factories as their wages of March remained due.

Taslima Akhter, president of Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity, said that workers were confused over factory operation as many workers were asked to join on Sunday while trade bodies asked not to bring workers from outside Dhaka.

New Age staff correspondent in Chattogram reported that hundreds of workers joined work at export-oriented factories in the morning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Chittagong Export Processing Zone general manager Khurshid Alam said that the garment owners opened their factories by ensuring health guidelines and protection of workers.

Privately owned Korean EPZ general manager Mushfiqur Rahman said that they opened all their factories in full swing from Sunday as 93 percent workers of their factories live in nearby areas. 

Civil Surgeon Sheikh Fazle Rabbi said that the more people would gather the more it would increase the risk of spreading the virus. They must ensure cleanliness and social distancing in the factories.

Mushtuq Husain, former principal scientific officer of IEDCR, told New Age that the instruction was to resume productions at factories in limited scale, but it seems that the owners have asked many workers to return and did not even think about how they would reach the workplaces amid the ongoing lockdown.

‘The factories must be operated following health and social distancing guidelines. If the owners fail to ensure the guidelines, I am afraid there the result would be disastrous,’ he added. 

Witnesses said that several thousand workers mostly of export-oriented garment units took to the streets in Dhaka’s Ashulia and Savar, in Gazipur and Narayanganj to press their demands despite rain.

Industrial police officials said that so far 650 factories did not pay their workers for the previous month while 1,427 factories started production in the industrial areas including Ashulia, Savar, Gazipur, Ctg and Narayanganj.

Police said that several hundred workers of Sigma Fashions Limited went to the factory gate and started demonstration protesting their termination. A number of fellow workers joined forces them demanding reinstatement of 709 workers who had been dismissed.

The workers of Sky Lux Ltd and Tibbet Garment Ltd at Hemayetpur of Savar and Greenlife Clothing Ltd also demonstrated for wage.

Bangladesh Institute of Planners in a statement expressed concerns over the decision of opening of the factories and said that it would increase the health risk for workers as well as the general people.

New Age correspondent in Gazipur reported that the workers of RL Yearn Dying Ltd at Kaliakair started demonstration in the morning as the factory management did not pay them for March.

The agitated workers blocked the nearby road until the factory management assured them of paying the wages by May 2.

Gazipur industrial police inspector Rezaul Karim said that the workers of Nexus Fashion Ltd, Stylish Garment Ltd and Hesong BD also demonstrated for due wages.

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