Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the demand for many products in the market has decreased. On top of that, the production of the factories has halved due to the labour crisis in the Industrial City of the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (Bscic) in Brahmanbaria.
Traders in the industrial city claim that until July at least Tk200 crore has been lost since the outbreak of Covid-19. Of the 72 approved factories in the industrial area, 60 are currently operational.
Due to Covid-19, most of the permanent workers in the factories are not coming to work regularly, creating a labour shortage in the existing factories and disrupting normal production activities. At present, only 3,000 out of 5,000 workers turn up for work in the industrial city.
However, contractual workers are still working as they are provided with some additional benefits. Even though permanent workers do not work regularly, employers have to pay their salaries.
Omar Farooq, a worker at Arman Chemicals, said that not all workers at the factory are working regularly due to the virus. However, for those who do turn up for work despite the risk of infection, the owner is providing free food as an added benefit.
Sardar Shaheen Alam, a worker of Amanat Flower Mill, said that there are 45 permanent and temporary workers in their factory, but due to Covid-19, about 20-25 workers turn up for work every day.
He said that before the Covid-19 outbreak, 45 tonnes of flour and 30 tonnes of bran used to be produced daily. At present, the factory is producing 15 tonnes of flour and 10 tonnes of bran daily.
Factory owners said that the demand for products has dropped significantly as a result of the pandemic, and at the same time, the production has halved due to the erratic arrival of the required raw material. Due to declining demand, shortage of raw material and the absence of workers, production of some factories have been stopped completely.
Md Rubel, the manager of Arman Chemicals, said the virus has exacerbated the labour crisis as well as the transportation crisis. The situation is still not normal even after the lockdown. As a result, transportation fares are high, which is why raw material is not being brought on time due to high fares. Production has also declined due to the inability to deliver goods properly due to the transportation crisis. Now, production is about 70 percent of what it used to be before.
Abdur Rahman Fahim, the owner of Bhai Bhai Food Industries, said his factory used to produce about 10 tonnes of muri (puffed rice) per week as there was demand in the market before the pandemic. Now, he is not able to sell 10 tonnes even throughout the month. As a result, he has to reduce production but pay the workers who remain idle most of the time.
To turn the tide, traders are seeking low interest and easy loan facilities.
Jamal Uddin, general secretary of the Brahmanbaria Bscic Industrial City Owners' Association, said, "We have suffered a loss of Tk200 crore so far. An average of Tk1 crore is still being lost every day. If it continues like this, we will be bankrupt."
"Even though the banks were supposed to give loans to affected traders at four percent interest, we have not got that benefit so far. The Bscic is also not cooperating with us," he added.
Billal Hossain Bhuiyan, assistant general manager of Brahmanbaria Bscic Industrial Area, said at first, workers did not want to come to work because of the virus. Also, production has declined due to reduced demand for the product. However, gradually the situation is returning to normal.
"We are talking to affected traders and calculating financial loss. Besides, a list of affected traders is also being prepared. This list will be given to all the banks. As a result, there will be no problem in getting a loan," he added.
The Bscic industrial city was established in 1985-8 in the Nandanpur area of Brahmanbaria Sadar upazila on 21.96 acres of land.
There are two pharmaceutical, four silicate, three soap, four metal, five silver, two pipe, two barbed wire, four vermicelli, three bakeries, four muri, four oil and eight flour factories in the industrial city.