Garment factories in Bangladesh defy coronavirus lockdown to resume work

Dhaka, Apr 26 (PTI) Hundreds of garment factories in Bangladesh on Sunday defied a nationwide coronavirus lockdown to resume work as the crippled sector sought to cover the losses, endangering the drive to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

A segment of the garment factories affiliated with the Readymade Garment Industry (RMG) entrepreneurs’ lobbies resumed operations on a limited scale, bdnews reported.

The Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BGMEA) has set a 30 per cent attendance target for the factories opening on Sunday while the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) asked its members to open knitting, dyeing and sample sections, which will also require at least 30 per cent attendance.

The mills were closed on March 26.

The factories are calling back workers living close to the units.

Asked about the number of factories that reopened on Sunday, BGMEA Vice President Faisal Samad told bdnews24.com: 'We are not doing anything in a hurry; everything is being done slowly. On the first day, about two hundred factories in and around Dhaka have made preparations to restart work with a small number of workers.” “The factories will fully reopen from May 2,' said BKMEA Vice President Mohammad Hatem, adding: 'Workers who are living far away have been barred from attending work at the moment.' Murad Hossain, the joint convener of the state-owned Jute CBA-Non-CBA Sangram Parishad and the former CBA president of the Crescent Jute Mill, said the mills were closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. They reopened the mills partially to cover losses.

In a directive sent to its members, the BGMEA outlined the different phases through which the factories will gradually increase capacity.

In the first phase, only workers living in the vicinity of the relevant factories will be allowed to return to work. From April 26 to May 2, only 30 per cent of the total workers can be present in the factories. Based on the results, the factories will later be allowed to call up to 50 per cent of its workers.

Meanwhile, the workers' organisations have reiterated their stand against the reopening of factories.

'Currently, we are facing a bigger humanitarian crisis than 1971,' said Mahbubur Rahman Ismail, coordinator of the Movement for Garment Workers' Rights.

'How can factories stay open when there is no guarantee of human life? We demand a three-month holiday for the workers and we want the government to take care of the salaries,' he added.

Meanwhile, some workers said if the mills' operations resume, hundreds of workers will come to the city to join work and that can lead to a far worse problem leading to a surge in the rate of the coronavirus infection.

There are nearly 4.1 million garment workers in the country.

Global lockdowns led the international apparel brands and retailers, who rely on the cheap labour that Bangladesh provides, to cancel or suspend an estimated USD 3.17 billion worth of orders in the country.

Bangladesh has decided to extend the nationwide COVID-19 shutdown until May 5 amid warnings of heightening risks of coronavirus infections in the country, including among doctors and healthcare workers.

To curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the government initially declared a general holiday on March 26 for 10 days. Later, that was gradually extended till April 25 as the country kept seeing a rise in the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19.

Bangladesh on Sunday confirmed deaths of five more COVID-19 patients, including a child, taking the country's death toll to 145.

Besides, another 418 people tested positive for the deadly disease, pushing up the total number of confirmed cases to 5,416. PTI NSA ZH