More than 3.57 lakh workers of Bangladesh's readymade garment (RMG) sector lost their jobs amid the Covid-19 pandemic, revealed a recent study on Saturday.
The average number of workers in a garment factory marked a 10.8% drop between December 2019 and September 2020.
Average number of workers per factory decreased from 886 to 790 during the period, while the total job loss in the sector was as high as 13.95%, says the survey jointly carried out by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and the Mapped in Bangladesh (MIB).
It was conducted during October-November last year on 610 sample factories in four major industrial clusters – Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chittagong.
The "Vulnerability, Resilience and Recovery in the RMG Sector in view of Covid Pandemic: Findings from the Enterprise Survey" found that about 232 factories had shut down amid the Covid-19 crisis as of last December, which is around 6.9% of the total factories in Bangladesh.
Among them, 188 factories were members of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). However, sample enterprises reported that only 2.7% of their workers were laid off amid the pandemic.
Commenting on the matter, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association's (BKMEA) First Vice-President Mohammad Hatem said a number of factories laid off some workers after paying them due benefits as per law, because there was a lack of orders.
"But the factories are now recruiting, as the RMG industry has been suffering from a shortage of skilled workers for some time," he added at a webinar held to publish the study's findings.
The study also mentioned that the export-oriented sector is facing the challenges posed by Covid-19 crisis, but thanks to the stimulus packages provided by the government, they are now working to overcome these challenges.
However, the sector's progress of recovery is very slow. Smaller factories based in Narayanganj and Chittagong, who are not members of garment associations, are facing more problems in particular.
"Most of the smaller factories have failed to apply for loans from the stimulus packages due to the complexity of the procedure," said Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Research Director of the CPD.
He added, "The stimulus packages covered the demand of 70% enterprises. Those who could not manage to avail the incentive are mostly small and non-member factories. Ninety percent of the large factories applied for the financial assistance, but only 40% smaller factories did the same."
The study also mentions that factories located in Narayanganj and Chittagong are highly dependent on informal loans and bank deposits.
It also emphasised the need for making preparations, such as reducing dependency on single buyers or a very small number of buyers, in order to be resilient and to ensure quick recovery of RMG enterprises.
Which is a major weakness not only for the small scale enterprises, but for large scale ones as well.
Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem presented the survey's findings at a webinar, while MIB's Project Manager Hasibuddin Hussain moderated the event. MIB is a digital mapping initiative operating under BRAC University's Center for Entrepreneurship Development.
Giving the welcome speech, CPD's Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun said the survey was conducted to address the resilience and vulnerability of the RMG sector. She added that along with the RMG sector, the pandemic has affected every sector to some extent.
Feni-1 lawmaker Shirin Akhter, BGMEA's Director Dr Mohammad Abdul Momen, and East-West University's Department of Economics Prof Dr AK Enamul Haque spoke at the event. Workers' representatives Kutubuddin Ahmed and China Rahman were also present there.