Thousands of apparel workers, who treaded hundreds of miles in hordes from their villages by braving the fear of coronavirus infections, fell in a serious trouble soon after they returned to save their jobs as well as get wages for March.
A few hours after they returned to Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur, Savar and Chattogram, the owners' associations, the BGMEA and the BKMEA, on Saturday midnight announced the extension of factory closure to April 11 in line with the government general holidays.
On the other hand, Bangladesh Police, in a move to contain the coronavirus spread, announced on Sunday that they would not allow anyone to enter or leave Dhaka city from Sunday onwards. As a result, the workers have been stranded in Dhaka.
Meanwhile, Narayanganj City Corporation Mayor Salina Hayat Ivy on Sunday requested Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the authorities concerned to impose curfew in the city to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The area is currently crowded with garment workers who returned to join works.
on Sunday , the government further extended general holidays to April 14. Now, the workers feel helpless as they are uncertain about getting their March wages and also over how they would be able to go back to villages or maintain a costly city life if they stay in Dhaka.
The government, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) set a bad example of irresponsibility and incoordination in this regard, said Razequzzaman Ratan, president of the Socialist Labour Front (SLF).
Abu Bakar, a sewing operator of Taqwa Garments Ltd based in Gazipur, said he had joined the work as their company had some orders to manufacture goods.
Anjuman Ara, who lives on Akmal Ali Road in Patenga, Chattogram, said, "I know there is a risk of coronavirus infection, but I need the wages because I have no money to maintain my family now."
She returned to Chattogram on Saturday night because they were supposed get the monthly wages within seven working days as per the labour law.
SLF President Razequzzaman Ratan said the government should take responsibility of meals for this large number of workers during the crisis.
Bangladesh Garment Sromik Samhati President Taslima Akhter said apparel workers are in a high risk of the coronavirus infection. The government and factory owners should take their responsibility.
Meanwhile, several owners opened their factories on Sunday , allowing their workers to join work. They claimed they arranged measures for their workers to prevent coronavirus infections.
Shafiqul Islam Rajib, manager of EnergyPac Fashion Limited in Hotapara area of Gazipur, said, "We have kept the factory open with all measures to prevent coronavirus infection. We have ensured safe distance among workers, temperature testing at the entry point and hand-washing with soap."
The factory has 4,500 workers and everyone is working safely, he added.
"Our factory opened today [Sunday] after a 10-day vacation. Now, we have some purchase orders from a German buyer. If we do not go into production, we may fail to deliver the goods in time," said Rajib.
Nazma Akter, a trade union leader and founder of the AWAJ Foundation, said the government, BGMEA and garment owners are failing Bangladesh in preventing the coronavirus spread.
Thousands of workers, who travelled to factories on foot risking their life, need salaries for their livelihoods. But many factories laid off or even sacked workers without payments, she alleged.
"We do not know what will happen to the workers tomorrow [Monday]? The government, buyers, owners – no one takes their responsibility," she said, adding that capitalism only cares about owners' profit but ignores workers' rights.
"We are not machines; we are human beings. We deserve dignity, respect and decent works. Corporations should not control us," she further said.
BGMEA cannot order for factory closure
Meanwhile, BGMEA on Saturday midnight issued a statement saying that it has no authority to close any apparel factory.
Only the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments has the authority, BGMEA said.
Three hours before the statement, BGMEA President Rubana Huq urged the owners to extend the closure of their factories till April 11 amid the nationwide shutdown.
On March 21, a formal meeting was held among the factory owners when many of them ensured that they would maintain highest precautions against coronavirus.
Even then, BGMEA went ahead and recommended for factory closure on March 26.
Moreover, BGMEA made no announcement regarding the reopening of garment factories.