Thousands of garment workers scrambled to reach their work places in Dhaka and adjoining areas, raising risks of coronavirus infection.
To rein in the spread of the deadly virus, the country has been under a shutdown since March 26, with all types of public transport stopped and businesses and factories closed.
The government initially announced a public holiday from March 26 when several lakh garment workers left for their village homes by buses, trucks, river routes and railways, carrying with them a risk of coronavirus infection. The shutdown was later extended till April 11.
Meanwhile, apparel owners have decided to reopen their factories from today, compelling workers to suffer all the way in the absence of public transport.
Our Mymensingh correspondent reported that garment workers in big numbers were heading for Dhaka from Sherpur, Jamalpur, Netrokona and Mymensingh.
He said many of them reached the Patgudam bus stand in Mymensingh on foot, by rickshaw and auto-rickshaws.
Their sufferings did not end there. They clambered on to whatever vehicle they could find in the absence of public transport.
Garment worker Rokeya Begum said she had crossed most of the 35-kilometre road from Mymensingh to Netrokona on foot.
She was headed for Gazipur. She feared she would not get her arrear salary if she could not reach her work place on time.
Zohra Begum, another garment worker from Tarakanda upazila in Mymensingh, said she had gone home to see her relatives in the village on holiday and now was returning to her work place in Gazipur.
The returning workers could not maintain any precaution for coronavirus as the number of vehicles was very few. On the one hand, they were in the danger of being infected by coronavirus and on the other they were afraid of losing their jobs.
Jahid, who works at a garment factory, said, "We are in uncertainty. Everything is closed but we have to reach the factories. We are faced with the risk of losing jobs if we do don't join our workplaces."
Workers from Rajshahi went through similar sufferings, reports our district correspondent.
Shanjid from Atrai upazila in Naogaon said he had to reach his workplace in Gazipur by today. His wife also works in a garment factory and needed to return there by the deadline. They went home on a truck by paying extra fares on March 27 when their factories were declared closed because of the public holiday.
Raisuddin, a garment worker from Bagmara in Rajshahi, said, "We, a group of nine persons, have rented a microbus. Each of us has to pay Tk1,300 compared to the regular bus fare of Tk450."
Asked why he was going to Dhaka by taking a risk in the time of coronavirus infections, he said, "We have no alternative. We have to go to save our jobs. If once we lose jobs, there is no job available. So we are going by putting our lives at risk."
Our Bogura correspondent reports that that law enforcers stopped four mini-trucks for carrying about 150 Dhaka-bound passengers, mostly apparel workers, in Matidali area of Bogura Sadarupazila. Mobile courts collected Tk55,000 in fines against 12 cases for carrying passengers and violating social distancing norms.
Mobile court magistrate and sadar upazila nirbahi officer Azizur Rahman said the transports carried passengers, illegally covering them with tarpaulin and violating instructions on social distancing.
Truck driver Abdur Razzak took 35 passengers from Palashbari of Gaibandha on contract, taking the fare after reaching Gazipur.
Another truck was carrying 14 passengers from Mahasthangarh of Bogura for Elenga. Driver Mohammad Afzal took 28 Dhaka-bound passengers from Rangpur. One of the passengers, Engineer AKM Rabiul, said the truck had been hired for Tk10,000 all the way to Dhaka.
Our Narayanganj correspondent reported that garment workers were returning to Narayanganj, a hub for apparel factories, in groups, ignoring their sufferings in the absence of public transport.
Shahadat Hossain, a worker in Siddhirganj, said he had changed vehicles several times which cost him much more than the normal fare. He said he was in fear of missing his wages for March, likely to be paid on April 7 or 8, if he failed to join work.
NAZ Bangladesh Ltd, a knit composite venture of NZ Group, has announced that the factory will open from April 5.
Abul Kalam Azad, assistant general manager (human resources and admin), told The Business Standard, "Our factory was closed from 26 April and it will remain open from tomorrow (Sunday)."
He said the factory, with about 4,000 workers, was prepared to ensure workers' safety as per government directives.
The Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) on Thursday issued a clearance to all its member bodies regarding a reopening of their factories.
However, its First Vice-President Mohammad Hatem told The Business Standard, "We have advised our members who have communicated with us to keep their factories closed till April 9."
Some factories having work orders were operating during the general holidays, he added.
When asked, he said the factories had been closed a day after the government announced the shutdown. "So, workers were not supposed to go outside the city."
BKMEA Director Munsur Ahmad said he did not support the opening of factories right now. The factories should be kept closed for another 10 days.
He said, "We may provide the workers with bread and health services. After all of that if any worker has coronavirus and goes to work, then how can we tackle the situation?"
BKMEA President AKM Salim Osman said many workers were yet to get their wages for March. The factories are being opened to pay the workers' wages.
Factory owners were directed that those among them not able to provide their employees with medical safety would have to keep their factories shut, he added.