Apparel makers are hoping to pay their workers' wages for March within the next week, said sources from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).
The readymade garment industry of Bangladesh is one of the hardest hit sectors by the global Covid-19 pandemic. Several apparel makers already paid their workers for the last month during factory closures on March 26.
However, some said they have a shortage of funds as most of their buyers and retailers usually take an additional 30 to 50 days to make payments. Now, these factory owners are trying to negotiate with banks to get funds for paying the workers' wages.
Many of the industry owners were hoping to use the government stimulus fund to pay their workers' wages for March, but the government already said it will not allow this move.
BGMEA President Rubana Huq told the media on Thursday, "The government has allocated Tk5,000 crore for export-oriented industries and that loan excludes any payment for the month of March.
"It is only for paying the workers' wages for April, May and June. We will need to ensure salaries for March from our own end, under a situation where we could not export even the 50 percent of our products."
She further said, "We hope every factory will be able to pay their workers' salary for March on time. However, regardless of the purchase order situation, many factories may have to remain idle for the next three months."
Meanwhile, BKMEA President AKM Salim Osman issued a notice on Friday with special directives to all its members, asking them to pay their workers' salary of March in due time.
"If it is required, you should communicate with banks in advance to take assistance from them, but it cannot be compromised in any way," he added.
Salim Osman also said every garment owner should be aware of any issues that could cause unrest.
He further said, "After April 4, opening and closure of factories will depend on their owners. If anyone has available work orders, they can run their factories after April 5. But they should ensure all safety measures to protect their workers from coronavirus."
The BKMEA letter also mentioned that if any member wants to close their factory, they should follow the Labour Act 2006 and first inform the association in writing the cause and legal ground behind the closure.
MB Knit Fashion Ltd's Managing Director Mohammad Hatem said he is working to manage funds for paying his factory workers' wages for March.
"Many of our buyers do not pay on time, and they have also informed us of taking another two to three months to make their payment," added Hatem, who is also the first vice-president of the BKMEA.
"We have already paid all of our workers' salaries for March, and then laid them off under the Labour Act 2006. We temporarily closed our factories last month. When we reopen, we will rehire our former workers," said David Hasanat, chairman and managing director of Viyellatex Group, a leading garment exporter.
According to BGMEA officials, more than half of the country's 4.1 million garment workers could lose their jobs because of cancellations and withholding of orders.
Around 1,098 factories, which are part of the BGMEA, had reported that orders worth over $3 billion have already been cancelled or being held up.