April is the cruelest month and it was proven so once again when thousands of garment workers trudged back to Dhaka city they had left when the government announced a countrywide lockdown until April 4.
As they went home in hordes, sardine-packed in trucks, launches and trains, we don't know whether thousands have been contaminated with coronavirus or not in the process. And now when they come back in the same manner, those who have been contaminated pose a great health risk to those in Dhaka.
The role that the BGMEA played in their migration and return migration was a tale of indecisiveness. The explanation they gave Saturday night about their powerlessness to lock down factories is not in the best interest of the citizens and the workers themselves.
This migration and return migration also reveal a lot about our garment industry, the 84 percent bringer of our export earnings.
The workers went home because they had no such savings to carry them through the lockdown. They went home because the ten feet by ten feet room in which four to six of them live – or should we say condemned to death – is no place to shelter-in-place through a lockdown. It can at best serve them to collapse their tired bodies to a plank-made platform at the end of back-wracking work and go to sleep.
It also reveals that risking their lives and of others was the better option than missing their work and probably losing their jobs. It also shows how divorced they are from the banking system as their absence could mean they would not get their salary because they mostly get it in cash.
And what does one make of BGMEA's two announcements on Saturday night – the first one urging factory owners to keep their factories shut until April 11, and the second one explaining that it actually has no power to close any factory?
They show that it could not take a timely decision about the safety of its workers and also of the citizens who are now at a greater risk of contracting the virus.
BGMEA had sat through all these days waiting for the workers to return while everybody, including the government, had in mind to extend the lockdown. The government, very correctly and wisely, announced the extension of lockdown much before the April 4 deadline came. BGMEA, like everybody else of this country, knew of the government's decision and yet sat there without considering the issue in time while apparently remaining unaware of the consequences of the return of the workers to the city.
Rather, they came up with a late night announcement that factory owners should keep their shutters down until April 11. By this time whatever damage that was supposed to happen had been done.
The workers have filed into the city. And now if their factories remain closed until April 11, what will they do? Will they again trot back to their homes in whatever way they can? If they don't, then how will they survive?
And the second statement of BGMEA is even more egregious. The statement that makes us learn it cannot force factories to close down; the power lies with the department of inspection for factories and establishments.
If it could ask factories to close until April 4, then why can it not further extend the appeal?
It is the apex body of the garment industry, the most important economic sector in the country. It looks after the interest of the industry collectively.
It can also ask the owners to extend the closure of factories.
But the damage is already done and it has acted against the government's shutdown order.