POST TIME: 6 April, 2020 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 5 April, 2020 10:43:27 PM
Section of readymade garment units reopen

Section of readymade
garment units reopen

Garment workers, mostly called out on a short notice, work in a factory at Joar Sahara in the capital yesterday as their management, like many others, resumed production ignoring a BGMEA call to keep their factories shut in accordance with the government-announced holiday. Photo: Nazmul Islam

Defying the government’s announcement of a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, a section of owners of readymade garment (RMG) factories kept their units open across the country yesterday, imperilling the lives of a large number of garment workers.

Huge numbers of RMG workers have already joined their respective factories to protect their jobs at a time when the government is trying to save its citizens from the deadly virus.

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers' and Exporters' Association (BGMEA) has urged owners to keep their factories closed until April 11 to contain the spread of the COVID-19.

BGMEA President Rubana Huq made the call in an audio statement on Saturday night amid growing criticism against the BGMEA for going soft on errant factory owners who have kept their units open.

The BGMEA chief’s plea came hours after hundreds of workers headed back to Dhaka from different districts to join work, sparking fears of contagion.

The BGMEA chief assured the RMG workers that they would get their wages and salaries for March. “There should be no doubt about that,” she said.

BGMEA sources said the shutdown of garment factories would be extended further as the government extended the lockdown till April 14.

On Saturday, the BGMEA said buyers had so far cancelled orders worth USD 3.02 billion following the coronavirus outbreak, affecting 1,104 factories and about 2.19 million workers. The government ordered a shutdown of all offices and workplaces for 10 days to stem the spread of the virus from March 26. It later extended the shutdown, which includes the transport system, till April 11. And now, the shutdown will continue till April 14.

Thousands of RMG workers, who left Dhaka following the government’s declaration of a lockdown from March 26, started returning to the capital. Many of them said they feared losing their jobs if they fail to show up for work or join their respective factories.

According to multiple sources, many RMG owners yesterday kept their factories open around the city, especially in Gazipur, and Chattogram. The ministry concerned said the garments factories that have emergency orders to deliver can remain open, but the owners must ensure protection of the workers from the virus. The government has also offered a Tk. 50-billion bailout package with 2 per cent interest for the payments of exporting-sector worker wages. But many workers, who had returned home before the shutdown, started going back to their factories in Dhaka and other places, mostly on foot, as the transport services were halted, on hearing that the factories were reopening. Rubana Huq, however, expressed doubts whether all the people returning to Dhaka were garments workers as, she argued, most of the RMG workers live near the factories. “I’ve never subjected my workers to torture or injustice. Please don’t pass the responsibility on to me,” the BGMEA chief said.

“Now, it’s the question of our survival. Please don’t create any dispute,” she added.

However, social media users came down heavily on the BGMEA, saying: “The RMG owners have played a game to blackmail the government, which has only played the role of a spectator while entire Bangladesh has been put at risk. Does BGMEA think it will survive if the country is at risk?”

The BGMEA president said: “I sincerely request the factory owners to stop production until April 11 considering the overall situation of the country. I also assure our workers that they will get the salary for March. They don’t need to worry about that.” Fatema Akhter, a garments worker from Gazipur, said: “I’ve to join my factory today. Or else I’ll lose my job.”

Meanwhile, police officers have been ordered to restrict the flow of people in and out of Dhaka after a huge influx of workers into the capital on Saturday sparked fears of contagion amid the coronavirus outbreak.