Rights groups oppose Bangladesh RMG traders’ plan to reopen factories in May

Workers’ rights groups have opposed the readymade garment traders’ plan to resume manufacturing in early May as the government is set to extend the lockdown over coronavirus until the first week of the month.

Faysal Atikbdnews24.com
Published : 22 April 2020, 11:44 PM
Updated : 22 April 2020, 11:44 PM

BGBA, the association of firms that carry out buying and sourcing activities, has put forward a strategy to the government citing examples of India and Vietnam to back the  plan.

Kazi Iftekhar Hossain, the president of Bangladesh Garments Buying House Association, or BGBA, said they submitted the proposal to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Principal Secretary Ahmad Kaikaus on Tuesday.

"We have learned from the experiences of different countries that are resuming production after some days of halt due to the pandemic,” he said and added India was considering reopening the factories with 20 percent workers.

“And Vietnam had reopened the factories a long time ago. We can’t simply sit and watch,” Iftekhar said.

According to him, they have developed a model on  Vietnam but with Bangladesh perspectives .

We’ve shown how production can continue with the workers protecting themselves from infection,” he added.

Hasina had earlier suggested some factories can gradually reopen by ensuring the workers’ transportation amid the lockdown, accommodation in the large plants and health safety.

Iftekhar also said these must be ensured. “The entire thing must happen in a planned and orderly manner,” he said.

Faisal Samad, senior vice-president of garment manufacturers and exporters’ lobbying group BGMEA, said a team headed by the association’s President Rubana Huq was collecting and analysing data from and beyond Bangladesh to make a protocol for the “best decision”. 

They were also consulting the International Labour Organization and the government’s Health Directorate, Faisal said.

But the workers’ rights groups, which have been demanding at least three months of paid leave, described the owners' “haste” to reopen the factories as “unacceptable”.

Mahbubur Rahman Ismail, co-ordinator of Garments Sramik Odhikar Andolan, an alliance of the 11 workers’ organisations, said they would seek the payment from the government, not the owners, to make the lockdown and social distancing efforts successful.

A number of workers have been infected with COVID-19 while six of them have died, according to the workers’ leader.

“Nothing is happening anywhere right now. Airlines are shut while ships are not sailing and no shipment or order is taking place. It is beyond my comprehension why they [owners] are planning this now,” he said.

The German government is providing 60 percent of their worker salaries while some other countries are paying 80 percent, he said.

France has already paid 100 percent of their workers’ salaries while the US government has provided each of its citizens with $1200 to survive, he said.

Babul Akhter, the president of the Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation, also objected ti the entrepreneurs move being floated “without instructions from the government and the World Health Organization”.

“BGMEA will have to take the responsibility if any accident occurs after they open the factories with their own mechanism and for their own sake,” Babul said.

He claimed no good could come from reopening some factories because production depends on a chain of units that carry out different jobs such as cutting, sewing, and finishing.

“The owners are making profits for ages, but they are refusing to take responsibility of the workers now for sometime,” Babul said.

“It was their [owners’] duty to pay the workers but they have been knocking the government for help since the beginning,” he added.

Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, a director at Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association BKMEA, said the factories should reopen soon for the benefit of the workers as well.

“Some owners may survive. But how long can a worker, who runs the family with total Tk 10,000 a month, live on if the income shrinks to 47 percent due to layoff?” he asked.    

“So, the government must think about ways to keep production running amid the lockdown. Otherwise, the fate of hundreds of thousands of people will be in jeopardy," he added.

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