Workers of different industries, including the apparel sector, have not yet received their wages for March amid the ongoing shutdown.
Ignoring the health risks of Covid-19, they are regularly protesting, demanding their unpaid wages.
Many owners have shut their factories without paying wages to the workers. People who work in these factories now fear a double loss – not getting the salaries of both March and April. Even worse, many factories have also laid off their workers.
To deal with this, the government has called an emergency meeting on Saturday, known as the "Tripartite Consultative Council," with representatives of the employers and workers. The meeting will also focus on providing cheap rice, lentil, oil and other daily necessities to apparel workers during this challenging time.
Officials of the Ministry of Labour and Employment informed that the costs for each household has increased due to the ongoing shutdown and the upcoming Ramadan.
The government set up a Tk5,000-crore fund to pay the wages of export sector workers during the April-June period. But the factory owners who have not yet paid wages for March are unlikely to take loans from this fund for paying wages of April.
This is because the factories that laid off their workers will not be eligible for the fund as per the decision of the Ministry of Finance.
And the factory owners are reluctant to pay full wages to the workers. They seemed to be more interested in a layoff. In this situation, on humanitarian grounds, the government is discouraging owners from firing the workers.
However, the meeting has been called to ensure that if anyone does lay off a worker, the worker gets his or her unpaid salary as per the labour law.
Akhtarul Islam, information officer of the Labour Ministry, said, "Resentment among workers has spread to different factories. In the consultative council meeting, owners will be instructed to pay wages to the workers, and stop sacking and layoffs.
"The employers will also be instructed to pay the wages for April, along with festival allowances before Eid-ul-Fitr. Also, workers' leaders will be asked to stay alert so that there is no resentment anywhere."
Akhtarul further said that the government will also send instruct owners of factories that remain open during the general holidays to strictly follow hygiene measures.
"The Ministry of Social Welfare has a fund to distribute rice, lentil and other daily necessities at low prices to vulnerable groups during disasters. The meeting may also decide if the fund can be used to help workers in the apparel sector and others during Ramadan," he informed.
At the meeting, secretaries of 17 ministries, the inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, additional secretary of the Export-Oriented Industries wing of the Labour Ministry, and the director general of the Department of Labour will represent the government.
Twenty private sector representatives from apparel, jute mills, textile mills, and the pharmaceuticals industry, the Bangladesh Employers' Federation and representatives of labour organisations will be there. Begum Monnujan Sufian, state minister for Labour and Employment, will chair the online meeting.
According to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), about 24 lakh workers have so far received their wages for March, which covers 96.75 percent of the total workers in their member factories. The remaining 3.25 percent of the factories are working to pay their workers.
The owners of the ready-made garment industries, in different meetings with the government, said that there are about 4,000 factories and 4.1 million workers in the apparel sector. But the BGMEA has not been able to provide any information about the rest of the factories and workers.
RMG workers block city streets for arrears
Hundreds of workers of several readymade garment (RMG) embroidery factories staged a demonstration on Friday, blocking streets in the Adabor area of Mohammadpur, Dhaka demanding payment of their arrears.
The demonstration, in front of the Adabor police station, lasted for at least three hours amid the heavy storm and rain.
Nazmul Haque Saikat, assistant police commissioner of Mohammadpur Zone, told The Business Standard, "Hundreds of workers were protesting in front of Adabor police station since morning. After around three hours, they left the street after getting assurance from the factory owners."
The agitating workers claimed that they had not been paid in the last three months.
Around 10 embroidery factory workers joined the protest, demanding their wages and ignoring social distancing rules. They were from Doyel Embroidery, Ratna Embroidery, Sohel Embroidery, Maya Embroidery and Milestone.
Md Rabbi, machine operator from Doyel Embroidery, said that there are 25 embroidery factories in Adabor.
"Among them, around 10 of the factories did not pay wages to their workers for the last three months. Everyone is talking about coronavirus, but we cannot buy food if we do not have any money," he added.
According to data from industrial police headquarters, until April 23, around 2,200 BGMEA members have paid the wages of their workers, and only 74 are waiting to pay.
Among the factories, 19 are in the Dhaka metropolitan area, 18 in Gazipur district, nine in Savar and Ashulia, nine in Narayanganj, 18 in Chattogram, and another three factories are in remote areas.