Over 2 million RMG workers whose jobs got affected due to cancellations and hold-up of export orders till yesterday will remain employed and continue to get their wages for the next two months, said BGMEA President Rubana Huq.
International buyers cancelled or held up orders worth over $3 billion till yesterday due to the coronavirus pandemic. This could affect 2.19 million workers in 1,104 factories across Bangladesh.
This development has prompted international media to report that more than a million garment workers in Bangladesh have lost their jobs.
"But that is not the case," said Rubana, adding, "It is true that these factories got affected by the order cancellations. But as per the labour law of the country, the factories will continue to pay the affected workers their wages for two months."
The affected factories would be able to tap into the Tk5,000 crore stimulus package of the government.
"None of the apparel workers have lost jobs, at maximum, they were laid off due to a lack of orders," the BGMEA president added.
As per the labour law, two months is the maximum lay-off period, she added.
"I strongly recommend that no one should lose their jobs for being absent in these critical times," she further said.
Former vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Md Shahidullah Azim said that as per the labour law, factory owners have to pay workers whether they have any business or not if the factories opt for lay-offs.
"Every brand and buyer has a responsibility and they should come forward to share the loss, otherwise it will be a big burden for us," he added.
Some apparel makers think that a lay-off is better than operating during the coronavirus outbreak. But as per the recent instruction of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), apparel factory owners should run their units during the coronavirus outbreak after ensuring workers' health safety.
As per the DIFE directive, testing workers' body temperatures through a thermal scanner before entering the factory is mandatory.
Factory owners will have to take the necessary steps for the treatment of workers, including quarantining them if any symptoms are detected.
"It is a very risky job to operate the apparel factories as these are high-density workplaces," said David Hasanat, chairman and managing director of leading garment exporter Viyellatex Group.
"We have already laid off our workers under the Labour Act 2006. When we reopen, they will come back," he added
"During this period, I have to pay 16,000 of my workers about Tk17 crore per month by borrowing from the government's stimulus fund," said David.
Apparel makers said this is like running a charity with borrowed money.
The apparel industry of Bangladesh has about 4,500 factories and employs 4.1 million workers.