Bangladesh readymade garment industry has resumed operations on a limited scale from 26 April. However, as workers have started coming back to factories to report to work, it has given rise to fears of the dreaded coronavirus pandemic escalating further. As per some reports, around 500 garment manufacturing units across the country have kickstarted operations from Sunday, including in Narayanganj, which is considered to be a hotspot in Bangladesh.
“Factories including 81 garment manufacturing units have resumed operations with a limited number of workers,” claimed inspector of Narayanganj Industrial Police-4 Bashir Ahmed while speaking to the media.
Even though the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has asked their member units to only summon workers who live within the vicinity of their workplace to resume operations, media reports claimed that thousands of workers have come back from their respective villages to resume work in the garment manufacturing hubs of Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Ashulia, which has reportedly complicated the matter further.
Apparel Resources spoke to a few garment manufacturers to know their plans of reopening their respective units and their scheme of things going ahead to keep their workers safe and secure.
“We have not started operations yet. But if things improve, we may think of doing so from May,” said Imtiaz Shuvo, General Manager- Marketing & Merchandising at Mahdeen Group, adding workers being the lifeline of the industry, they are more than concerned about their safety and would decide on work resumption depending on the existing COVID-19 situation in the country.
Imtiaz further claimed that even before the factories were shut down on 26 March, they had all the necessary precautionary measures in place like providing hand sanitisers, face masks, etc., to their workers.
“We are already working on the safety measures keeping with the guidelines provided by the BGMEA and WHO,” claimed Imtiaz, underling that if and when the work starts, workers’ safety would be their highest priority and there would be no compromise on it.
The safety issue of the workers gains even more importance in the backdrop of the recent United Nation’s (UN) report, which, in its position report prepared by the organisation’s regional bureau, claimed that Bangladesh is coming up with the fewest social protection initiatives in the Asia Pacific region.
The organisation broke down the ‘social protection’ into eight categories: measures to boost affordable healthcare; sickness benefits ensuring income security during sick leave; unemployment protection; preventing job losses and supporting those who lost their jobs; old age, survivor and disability benefits; providing income support (i.e., social assistance, cash transfers and other support); family leave and care policies; modifying the payment of social security contributions and tax payments for enterprises; and an unspecified category called ‘other measures’.
The report published on 13 April assessed measures adopted by the Governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in countries under the jurisdiction of the organisation’s Regional Bureau of Asia Pacific (RBAP).
As per some industry insiders, many workers have reportedly resumed work out of the fear of being laid-off while also to make sure that they do not lose out on the festival bonus, more so when the holy festival of Eid-ul-Fitr is just round the corner.
Abdur Rahman, Managing Director of Chittagong-based Byzid Apparels Private Limited and NGF Corporation, told Apparel Resources, “We have not resumed production yet but when we do, it will be after considering the workers’ well-being and safety.”
Byzid has readied plans to provide the workers gloves, masks and hand sanitisers, while also try and maintain the prescribed social distancing norms. Further, they are also working on disinfectant tunnel for the workers, for added security.
However, Abdur is of the opinion that knowing the severity and the epidemic nature of coronavirus, it is better to wait for some more time to let things come under control, before throwing open the doors of the factory to full-scale operations.
Recent reports suggest that work in the garment manufacturing units in the port city of Chittagong has also resumed including in the Export Processing Zones.
Speaking to the media, a worker employed with the Hong Kong-based garment manufacturing unit Epic said the workers were undergoing temperature check at the entrance of the unit and disinfectants were also sprayed and they were maintaining a proper distance from each other.
It may be mentioned here that the Chittagong Export Processing Zone has around 200,000 workers in 158 plants including readymade garment factories while the number of plants at Karnaphuli Export Processing Zone is 41 with around 76,000 workers.
Chattogram EPZ General Manager Khaurshid Alam informed that the EPZ has allowed 75 factories to reopen and they were following the health safety guidelines with around 45,000 workers resuming work in factories, while as per General Manager of Karnaphuli EPZ Moshiuddin Bin Mezbah, around 30 factories resumed production on a limited scale in the said EPZ.
Meanwhile, all the 22 factories in the Korean EPZ have also reportedly resumed work with around 40 per cent of the 25,000 workers, who have come back to work.