While ready-made garment (RMG) workers have been staging demonstrations for their March salaries, three apparel industries have set a unique example over the workers' April payments and Eid bonuses amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Among the three RMG manufacturers, Narayanganj based SP Group has already paid April salaries and committed to paying Eid bonuses, while two others – Chattogram-based Denim Expert Ltd and Narayanganj-based Fatullah Apparels Ltd – promised the workers full payments plus Eid bonuses.
The factories have also announced that they would not terminate any workers during the virus fallout.
The manufacturers did not even reopen productions considering the health issues of the workers. However, they assured the workers full payment in the upcoming months even if their income is zero.
Workers' health gets highest priority
Narayanganj-based SP Group's Managing Director Shubol Chandra Shaha said they will prioritise the workers' health before anything else.
The manufacturer shuttered the production on March 25 in line with the government announced general holidays to curb the virus spread.
After one month, Shubol still feared the Covid-19 spread in Bangladesh might take a deadly turn, and he therefore did not reopen production.
The managing director said garment workers live in small rooms with other people, and in most cases many people share a common toilet. "The garment adjacent areas where the workers live are very susceptive to the virus spread," he added.
"We plan to resume operations from June 1, if the coronavirus situation improves. Otherwise, we will reopen on July 1," said Shubol Chandra Shaha. His factories employ 3,300 workers and salaries cost him nearly Tk5 crore per month.
The government allowed the apparel manufacturers to reopen factories this week on a limited-scale and asked them not to force workers currently outside Dhaka to join the production.
The apparel manufacturers decided to give 60 percent salaries for April to the workers instead of the full amount as the productions were almost closed throughout the month.
But Shubol said his factory workers will get full payments until his factories reopen, even though he could not make any money in April.
"SP Group has paid workers their full salaries for the month of March," said Shubol Chandra Shaha, adding, "Now my HR team is working on Eid bonus payments so that the workers can have a joyful festival."
Like SP Group, Chattogram's Denim Expert Ltd and Narayanganj-based Fatullah Apparels Ltd said they will provide the workers with April salaries plus Eid bonuses. Both garments are observing the situation closely and consider reopening in the first week of May.
Did they do it just out of generosity?
When many factories were terminating workers and some factories are not paying their workers' March payment, the three factories did not terminate any of their employees.
How they maintained such decency?
"Workers are like my family members. I never think of throwing my workers into a big trouble," said Mostafiz Uddin, managing director of Denim Expert Ltd. "We really care about our employees during this disaster," he added.
Other two garments also echoed the same. All the three manufacturers basically do businesses with European buyers.
The manufacturers were forced to slash the productions and had their orders cancelled during the pandemic. But they did not suffer any massive blow from the buyers' end.
SP Group has two major clients – Belgium's buyer BLC and Swedish buyer Cotton group.
"We have been doing business with the BLC for 26 years. They did not cancel any orders or shipments," said Shubol Chandra Shaha. However, his productions worth around Tk250 crore were stuck at ports in Chattogram and Europe.
Chittagong's Denim Expert Ltd employs 2,000 people and has an annual turnover of $18 million with exports going to the US and Europe. It had orders worth $10 million canceled, and the future orders were withheld.
Managing director of the factory Mostafiz Uddin said utility bills and bank loans were mounting on them.
However, he expressed gratitude to his reliable buyer the Inditex who sources about 60 percent of the factory production. Mostafiz said the Inditex did not cancel any orders or withheld any payments.
Narayanganj-based Fatullah Apparels Ltd employs 1,100 people and has an annual turnover of $11 million with exports going to Europe.
Chief Executive Officer of the knit compositor Fazlee Shamim Ehsan said none of their buyers canceled any orders though the pandemic hampered the production substantially.
Ehsan expressed his gratitude to his two reliable buyers from Europe – Happy Chic and Fopem. He has been doing business with them for over a decade.
"Those buyers are still placing some small orders to my factory," Ehsan says.