So, owners of RMG factories are now happy as their factory floors are humming again thanks to hundreds of thousands of workers who were left with no alternative but to endure an inhuman suffering on the roads on Saturday to respond to "the call of duty" defying the fear of contracting the lethal virus and the lockdown restrictions as well.
The reality is appalling. Workers who were seen in hordes on the roads, travelling in crammed goods transports and auto-rickshaws towards Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj from every corner of the country, are happy too. They seem to have defeated the fear of losing jobs and facing pay cuts upon failure to join the work Sunday morning. Thus, in the unprecedented health and economic crisis, livelihood appears to be more important than the threat to life.
This only shows the livelihood vulnerability they face in daily lives to manage food and other necessities for survival.
The shocking thing is that the artillery of the country's biggest export earning sector making the country feel gloated over a strong foreign currency reserve still remains in economic vulnerability. The rise of the RMG sector as the third largest in the world could not reduce their livelihood vulnerability.
If most of your employees are in such an extent of vulnerability, the fact should not be ignored that your businesses are vulnerable too and unable to sustain any major shock. The business that thrives on cheap labour does one thing efficiently: exploitation of workers.
The fact is you don't own and care for them; they don't do so. If you go through the history of the global business giants, one thing will be found in common: their empathy for their workers.
So the exodus of hundreds of thousands of workers seen on the roads cannot give you the feeling of self-satisfaction that you have a loyal and strong army needed to make your business grow and be sustainable.
They have no other ways and means for livelihood as the state could not deliver on its fundamental responsibility to create a conducive environment offering people the scope to manage basic necessities such as food, clothing, housing, education and healthcare. Therefore, they have travelled an inhuman journey to save the source of their livelihoods.
Who are responsible for their untold sufferings?
The government had made it clear before Eid-ul-Adha that all factories, including the export-oriented RMG sector, would remain shut during the two-week-long lockdown from 23 July after a week of relaxation for Eid celebration.
From the onset, RMG owners were insisting that the government exempt the RMG sector from the purview of the reinforced lockdown. The government policymakers had continuously rejected the plea. Even after a meeting on 27 July, the home minister reiterated the government's stance not to allow factories to reopen before 5 August.
Keeping trust in the government's firm announcement, workers left their work places in Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj for their villages across the country to celebrate Eid. They were supposed to return to work after 5 August.
But, all of sudden, the government on Friday afternoon, day before the end of July, announced that the export-oriented factories would be allowed to reopen on Sunday. According to media reports, many factory owners sent mobile phone messages to workers, asking them to join work on Sunday without failure.
The workers know failure to abide by such instructions bring dire consequences for them – either job loss or pay cut. So, they did not hesitate to jump on the streets in the early morning of Saturday with lockdown still in full force preventing public transports from plying on the routes leading to their work places.
The way things took place has questioned the wisdom and efficiency of the policymakers in the government administration and the RMG sector as well. They are cut off from reality.
The leaders of the BGMEA, a strong voice muscle of the RMG owners, has made the government backtrack from its position. They have wanted the workers back to the factory floors, but they bothered little about how the workers would travel from different parts of the country to join work amid lockdown. In fact, they have "over confidence" that workers will return to save their jobs – no matter whether or not public transports ply on the roads.
Neither did the government policymakers who decided to exempt the RMG sector from the purview of the lockdown think about the workers. Their goldfish memory seems to have forgotten that the similar messy situation persisted on the roads last year after confusion whether factories would remain closed or not during the shutdown enforced in the form of general holiday.
Just after the situation had worsened as hundreds of thousands of RMG workers were struggling on the roads in the absence of public transports to return to their workplaces, the government allowed resumption of bus services from Saturday evening until Sunday noon. But the damage has already been done.
This only shows a lack of efficiency to assess the situation in full to make a decision.
The virus situation has not improved, yet RMG factories were allowed to reopen. The situation remains worrisome. Every day the country has been recording more than 200 deaths and 10,000-plus cases since 23 July when the two-week-long lockdown restrictions were reinforced.
The all-important question is: If the fact on the ground has not been considered to allow factories to reopen, then why were they not exempted earlier from the purview of the lockdown restrictions?
The way workers returned to their workplaces in hordes triggered fear that the virus situation may worsen in the coming weeks because nobody knows how the virus has spread in the crowd of workers. The exodus is feared to be the kiss of death for lockdown restrictions.
But the irony is – in the end, both factory owners and workers are happy. Government policymakers are also free from pressure from the RMG owners who were voicing concern over possible cancellation of orders for factory closure.
So, no one will be held responsible for the sufferings of workers endured on Saturday. The chapter is closed.