The Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) has finally woken up to do its job of inspecting the health and safety issues in garment factories.
While over 1,300 garments factories have resumed operations with a limited number of workers since April 26, some factories are under pressure to allow all its employees to work. However, this would increase the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Fifteen garment workers have already tested positive to the coronavirus after resuming work in Savar and Gazipur.
DIFE Inspector General Shibnath Roy issued a directive on Saturday to launch a special safety inspection in industries in an attempt to ensure workers' safety according to the 2006 labour law.
According to the industrial police data, a total of 3,034 industries were opened on Thursday, out of which only 171 were from the textile sector, and 1,509 were garment factories.
Shibnath told The Business Standard, "We have formed 50 inspection committees for special inspection of workers' health safety issues during the pandemic. Twenty three committees are under the DIFE Dhaka zone and 27 are under the DIFE Gazipur zone."
"The inspection committees will check workers' safety issues like hand-washing at entrances, using masks and gloves, a separate facility for keeping shoes, and social distancing on the production floor and at entrances. Earlier, inspectors checked over 100 issues.
"DIFE will also check if any safety committee exists in garment factories. The labour law makes it mandatory for any factory having more than 50 workers to have a safety committee," he said.
Shibnath said the factories should comply with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) factory opening guidelines, the health ministry's task force guideline and the labour law.
"If any factory violates any issue, they will be given a notice to correct the issue immediately. The DIFE will take legal action against that factory after two days if it does not comply."
The DIFE inspector general further explained, "We will request the BGMEA to suspend their Utilisation Declaration (UD) facility. At the same time, the DIFE will also prepare legal procedures against that factory."
However, the DIFE inspector general acknowledged that garment workers are not ready to hear that the factory should run with only 50 percent workers to ensure worker safety.
"It is very difficult to maintain that when workers stage demonstrations to return to work," he added.
Workers stage demos demanding dues
According to information from the BGMEA and the industrial police, garment workers held demonstrations on Sunday in Dhaka and Ashulia to protest the closure of factories and to demand their salaries.
Workers of a garment factory named Afco Abedin Garments blocked the main road in Banani's Chairman Bari area in the capital demanding salaries, allowances and reopening of the factory.
The agitated workers took to the streets around 11am on Sunday.
Abdul Matin, a patrol inspector at Banani police station, said, "The factory, like other factories, was shut down after a general holiday was declared due to coronavirus. But Afco Abedin Garments has not opened yet though some garment factories have started to open."
He added, "Workers blocked the road this morning. They are demanding salaries and allowances of 180 workers of the factory."
However, the BGMEA claims that the workers of Afco Abedin Garments have already been paid their salary for March.
"The factory owner has no work. That is why he has closed it, and the closure benefits are being discussed and negotiated," BGMEA officials told the media.
Workers of another garment factory in Ashulia also staged demonstrations on Sunday demanding their due salaries.
Industrial Police Superintendent Mohammad Amjad Hossain said, "About 500 workers of Poshak Knitwear Ltd in Ashulia staged demonstrations demanding their March salaries".
In the Gazipur area, workers of five factories staged demonstrations demanding their due salaries.
The factories are RL Young Dyeing Ltd, Radisson Washing Ltd, San Kuong Apparels Ltd, Cocoon Fashion BD Ltd, and Shema Fashion Ltd, according to the industrial police.
Updated data from the industrial police said workers of 174 garment and textile industries have not been paid yet. Of those, 69 are BGMEA member factories, 71 are Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association members and 22 are textile factories.
Tripartite meeting at Sromo Bhaban
Readymade garment labour leaders demand at least 65 percent salaries for workers who are staying at home during the pandemic, while the labour and employment ministry has already instructed factory owners to pay 60 percent.
They made the demand at a tripartite consultative committee meeting headed by State Minister for Labour and Employment Monnujan Sufian at Sromo Bhaban in the city on Sunday afternoon.
The ministry also directed factories to pay 100 percent salary to workers who have joined work.
After the meeting, BGMEA former president Abdus Salam Murshedy told The Business Standard, "Labour leaders demand five percent more than the figure given in the government directives. It will be finalised in the next meeting before Eid and may be effective from next month."
"They also demanded an assurance that no one's will lose their job during the pandemic. BGMEA and BKMEA have already asked their member factories to not sack anyone during this disaster.