BGMEA says 299 out of 4m have COVID-19. Bangladesh workers doubt data

Clothing factory workers have dismissed owners’ lobby BGMEA’s figure that only 299 among around 4 million workers of the industry have contracted coronavirus while more than 70,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in three months in Bangladesh.

Faysal Atikbdnews24.com
Published : 9 June 2020, 11:38 PM
Updated : 9 June 2020, 11:39 PM

Workers’ leaders say the industry owners are simply hiding information to evade liabilities.

Experts largely blame the apparel sector entrepreneurs’ decision to reopen factories amid a shutdown for the rise in infection rate in Bangladesh.

Thousands of workers had started walking or taking rides on crammed pickup and small passenger carriers to Dhaka from places up to 100 kilometres away to save their jobs when some factories decided to reopen in the second week of the lockdown in early April. The workers returned as the owners changed their minds following widespread criticism.

The government allowed the factories to reopen later that month on conditions that they ensure transport and housing beside health safety of the workers, but no such measures have been visible.

Coronavirus infection began escalating amid the chaos.

On Tuesday, when Bangladesh reported 3,171 new coronavirus infections and 45 deaths, both single-day records, BGMEA spokesperson Khan Monirul Alam Shuvo told bdnews24.com 299 workers have been infected with the virus.

Temperature of a worker is being taken before they enter an apparel factory in Dhaka. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

Last Thursday, BGMEA President Rubana Huq said 264 workers tested positive for the novel virus until Jun 3. She said the number was “comforting” considering that a big chunk of the population was engaged in the industry.

Rubana also used the data to criticise those who feared a sharp spike in the outbreak due to the reopening of the factories.

Asked about the credibility of the caseload, she claimed they “meticulously collected” the data from civil surgeons of all districts.

Most of the over 2,200 factories listed on BGMEA are situated in Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chattogram. They have nearly 2.4 million workers.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases among garment factory workers at Sadar Upazila in Narayanganj is 150, according to Upazila Health Officer Jahidul Islam. The district has apparel factories in four other Upazilas as well.

bdnews24.com correspondents in Gazipur, Savar and Narayanganj said the industrial police units, besides the civil surgeons, had initially been providing information on coronavirus cases among the clothing factory workers.

The police have stopped providing the information. Some officers said they were under pressure from different quarters.   

NO TEST AT ALL: LEADERS

Worker leaders have alleged that the owners are hiding the infection data to give the impression that all is normal in the industry. 

The owners are “bluffing the nation”, said Joly Talukder, president of Garment Workers’ Trade Union Centre.

The real figure of infected apparel factory workers is as high as several thousand, she claimed.

Many workers tested positive but their names did not appear on the BGMEA list while many others could not even get tested, Joly said. 

Taslima Akter, a leader of Sramik Sanghati, also said a lack of tests was the reason behind the low rate of coronavirus detection among the workers.

BGMEA has set up some kiosks but only a few workers can give samples, she said.

Workers wearing face masks sew garment at a factory in Dhaka's Mirpur amid the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

“We have reports that workers are falling sick in different areas. They take paracetamol and return to work when the symptoms go away,” Taslima said. 

BGMEA LAB WASN’T OPENED

BGMEA announced in a big virtual event last Thursday that it has set up a coronavirus testing lab in Gazipur’s Chandra and that 400 tests will be conducted there from Saturday.

But it did not begin testing even on Tuesday.

Md Rafiqul Islam, a former army officer currently working at the BGMEA, said they made a list of 46 workers for the first tests.

BGMEA organised training for two technologists for a testing lab in Savar in May, but no further development has been reported.

The association had revealed plans to set up a lab in Narayanganj as well, but there is no visible progress.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher