Festivals bring a time of joy and merriment. But have you ever spared a thought on the flip-side of festivities, especially for the businesses. With discount sales in every departmental store and online shopping portals, one might think, how could businesses suffer on account of celebrations! Ask the apparel manufacturers from the world’s second largest exporting hub of Bangladesh and you have the answer.
As per 2016 news reports, the Bangladesh readymade garment industry, which was struggling to recover from the image crisis following the infamous Rana Plaza disaster of 2013, suffered substantial export loss in September that year. The country’s exports reportedly fell by 5.6 per cent in September 2016 when pitted against the same period a year ago to US $ 2.24 billion, 18 per cent below the target. And as one would guess, many felt it was the enduring ripple effect of the Rana Plaza disaster. But in reality, the reason was something else. As per the industry, workers’ turnaround and long Eid holidays had a big role to play behind this export debacle.
“The fall is mostly due to the long Eid vacation,” maintained Siddiqur Rahman, President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, speaking to Reuters. A labour-intensive industry, garment manufacturing is all about the workforce, where even a minor percentage of attrition or workers’ absenteeism could wreak havoc on the entire production process and shipment plans.
Back to 2018, has there been any change in this trend? At least the apparel manufacturers are loath to think so. “The workers’ turnaround is a perennial problem, which started since the inception of the industry. Almost every factory suffers an average 10-15 per cent loss of workers after Eid and this is a big challenge for the manufacturers. If one looks from the industry’s perspective rather than an individual manufacturer’s, there’s hardly any loss, as workers shift from one unit to another, but mostly remain within the sector. But as I said, being a perpetual problem, manufacturers by now are able to anticipate the crisis and its implications to a certain degree and try to work things around to ensure that the production process does not get crippled,” explains Md. Fazlul Hoque, Managing Director of Plummy Fashions Limited (PFL) to Apparel Resources.
Located at Narayanganj, 20 kilometres south of capital Dhaka, Plummy Fashions is the highest-ranked green knitwear facility globally.
Maintains Khokon Chandra Kundu, Director of Marketing-AKR Group, “Of the two Eids, things turn more difficult after Eid-Ul-Azha. Each year, after Eid-Ul-Azha, RMG factories have to tackle 10-15 per cent workers’ migration and this is something that we are witnessing for long. In such cases factories have no option but undertake recruitment drives to replenish the understaffed production team. The whole process results in slowdown of the production process by around 1-15 days, which becomes difficult to recover, considering the stringent shipment time.”
As per industry insiders, Eid-Ul-Fitr is less taxing on exporters than Eid-ul-Azha, after which workers’ attrition rate is on an all-time high. So, what could be the reason behind it?
“In majority cases, around 97-98 per cent workers return to the workplace post Eid-Ul-Fitr as the next Eid is in a span of just another month and working for a month longer ensures them an additional bonus plus a month’s salary,” explains Kundu.
The recurring problem of workers’ extended Eid holidays and switchover to other manufacturing units seems to be taking a toll on the industry now.
“Eid-Ul-Fitr has just been over and it will take around 1-2 weeks more for the situation to normalise. And again, after a month, we are bracing for Eid-Ul-Azha,” says Abdul Auwal Khaled, Sr. Merchandiser, Valiant Group, after a long deep breath, wondering how to tackle the impending crisis.