THOUSANDS of workers in the private and informal sectors have so far lost their jobs since the COVID-19 outbreak reduced economic activities in the country. According to an Industrial Police data, 29,369 workers, mostly from the readymade garment sector, have lost their jobs only in the past two months as owners have largely adopted cost-cutting measures citing lack of work orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The data, which is based on 165 industrial units under six industrial zones, shows that out of the total 29,369 retrenched workers, 21,557 are from factories listed with three garment and textile trade bodies — 18,916 are from 104 factories listed with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, 2,377 from 20 factories under the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association and 264 from five mills under the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association. Besides, 5,719 workers have been terminated from 18 factories under the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority and 2,093 workers from 18 non-RMG units. The number of retrenched workers, labour rights organisations say, is at least three to five times higher than the figure shown in the Industrial Police data as there are many factories out of the jurisdiction of the Industrial Police and that many workers have been forced to leave their jobs on their own.
Even though the government warned as early as mid-April that factories would not receive facilities from the financial package of Tk 5,000 crore that the government announced in the last week of March mostly for the payment of workers’ wages if they go for layoffs, factories are reported to have continued mass layoffs pushing the lives of workers on the edge of uncertainty. Moreover, most factories that have made layoffs are reported to have deprived the workers of their lawful benefits violating the labour law. In a difficult time like this, when economic activities have largely slowed down diminishing alternative ways of income, such layoffs amount to a structural strangulation of the lives and livelihoods of workers, hundreds of whom, having found themselves without any support to fall back on, have left the capital and the city centres. According to different estimates, over one lakh workers from the capital and other industrial areas have taken recourse to reverse migration and have ended up in rural areas, wherefrom they migrated earlier following economic, environmental and climate-related challenges. Experts rightly fear and warn that the mass layoffs and the reverse migration, if not addressed immediately, will usher in a crisis and might lead to social instability.
The government must, in such a situation, stand by the workers who have lost their jobs and bring them under social protection net. The government must also ensure that the retrenched workers receive their lawful benefits and that the private sector, for which it has announced different incentives, stop any further retrenchment. Leaders in the apparel industry and of the trade bodies must also realise that the growth the industry has made is workers’ contribution and that they must not be discarded inhumanly in a time of crisis.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial