Fazila Begum has been working as a sewing operator at Interstoff Apparels for five years. When the factory reopened after last year's general holiday, announced to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, she was allowed to rejoin work a few days later.
She said she had been given a full month's pay even though she joined work a few days after the factory had reopened. Her employer counted those days as holidays. In the same month, she also received a bonus of Tk477 for meeting targets.
"I will go on maternity leave from next month [April 2021]. Considering my physical condition, the factory has relaxed my duties a bit," she said.
Fazila got all kinds of safety equipment from the factory for free during the pandemic. She also received 10kg rice, 2kg pulses, and 1kg soybean oil at half the prices with the help of a buyer in two phases. This, she said, was the biggest assistance she had received.
At the end of the general holiday, the factory resumed operations with 40% of the workforce. Those workers were given their full payments while the remaining 60% received 65% of their wages, said Divisional Assistant General Manager (compliance) of the company Pradip Kumar Nath. The factory could pay all the workers, including those who were absent, as it had received money from the government's stimulus fund.
Located in Gazipur's Kaliakoir, the factory employs about 5,000 workers. None of the workers lost jobs during the pandemic. They all received wages and allowances on time during the general holiday. As the company was already paying its workers through bank accounts before the virus broke out, it faced no problem in disbursing salaries from the bailout fund.
The knitting factory employs over 100 disabled people recruited through the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP). They are working as full-time workers after receiving training from the CRP.
One such worker is Parul Akhter Riya, who lost his parents and also became crippled herself in a road accident while studying in the second grade. Hailing from Dinajpur's Ramnagar, she spent her childhood and adolescence at the places of her maternal and paternal relatives. As she has always been interested in studies, she is now a student of Bangladesh Open University.
She came to know about the CRP while living at her uncle's house in Savar. She received training there and joined Interstoff in October 2016 as a sewing operator.
"After joining the company, I received cooperation from everyone. The factory also offers good facilities. I am taking computer training to do something better. I will also take the degree (pass) examinations in the future," Riya said.
Since its inception, Interstoff has been engaged in various workers' welfare programmes and none of the benefits was reduced even during the pandemic. Rather, the organisation is making new plans to accelerate these activities.
Pradip said many workers had made delays in joining work even after the factory had been fully reopened.
"But we did not fire any of them. Many returned from their hometowns after a month and they were paid even for that period. We wanted to stand by our workers during the crisis because their labour and sweat had helped our organisation grow," he explained.
The company has about 50 corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes, including 24-hour emergency medical services, health insurance, and advanced training for workers, and has planned to take up five more, with a focus on workers' welfare. These include opening a fair price grocery shop and a pharmacy.
Unit Manager (compliance) of the company Hosne Ara Begum said they take various steps to address workers' suffering.
"We pioneered many services that others are implementing now. For example, all the factories had to use mobile financial services or open bank accounts to pay their workers, but we had done it before," she said.
She said the company had been paying workers through bank accounts for several years and that had made disbursing salaries during the pandemic easier for them.
"These steps mainly benefit workers. They can dream of a better life. We think of them as our family members."
A collaboration between The Business Standard and Shojag Coalition.