Softex Sweater Industries, a leading company in the readymade garments sector, has set a unique example by allowing its female workers to enjoy additional maternity leave during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The company, located in the Dhaka EPZ, is giving additional leave over and above 16 weeks of standard leave with pay for the well-being of pregnant mothers.
Softex has 880 workers. So far, 12 female workers of the company have enjoyed the additional leave.
The company received the government-announced Covid-19 stimulus package to pay workers for four months from March to June. The company has been able to continue its worker-friendly practices with the help of this government assistance.
Halima Khatun, 31, has been working as an operator in the company for three years and lives in a rented place next to the EPZ. Her husband is a fruit seller.
Halima Khatun said, "The company sent me on a two-week leave before the scheduled time of maternity leave. They gave me advance leave considering my physical condition and the Covid-19 risk. They also paid my full salary."
"I returned to work for the company in December, two months after giving birth to a daughter," she added.
Halima said the company has a breastfeeding and daycare centre. But as per the rules, a child under the age of six months cannot be kept there. "However, a woman takes care of some children of working mothers next to our home. I leave the baby with her and come to the factory and pay her Tk3,000 per month."
Kakoli Akhter, 21, also works at the company as an operator. She got 10 weeks of extra leave during her maternity period.
"I was given extra leave during my pregnancy. I went to Faridpur with my mother and left the baby there with her, joining the factory in January," she said.
"I live alone in Savar, so it is not possible for me to keep the baby. I am very upset because of that," she added.
Nasreen Akhter, welfare officer of Softex, said, "Covid-19 has increased the risk to pregnant women. We are giving them extra leave for their well-being.
They are also being given a full salary and other benefits."
According to labour law, a pregnant woman gets 16 weeks of maternity leave. As per the rules, the total leave period is divided into two parts: 8 weeks before delivery and 8 weeks after delivery. And she must be paid a full salary during her leave.
However, many female workers do not return to the same factory after delivery or do not take full maternity leave. There are also cases where pregnant women are forced to resign instead of being fired. Sometimes an extra month's salary is paid to encourage such resignations.
Rezwan Selim, managing director of Softex, said, "As third-generation businessmen, we have had a focus on workers' well-being from the very beginning.
Softex is my business organisation, which was developed by me. Inspired by my father, we have been giving priority to the welfare of workers from day one."
A collaboration between The Business Standard and Shojag Coalition.