The ready-made garment workers returned to their workplaces today after the Eid holidays following the government's approval to allow all export-oriented industries, including the readymade garment sector, to resume production from 1 August amid the prevailing Covid-19 restrictions.
Reportedly, the factory owners expressed satisfaction at the attendance rate of workers which has been over 90% on average on Sunday.
Syed Nazrul Isam, first vice-president of BGMEA, told Business Standard that on average, about 90% of workers have joined the factories in the Chattogram region.
Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, CEO of Fatullah Apparels in Narayanganj, said his factory has around 87% worker presence today.
Amanur Rahman, senior manager (HR & Admin) of Adamjee EPZ based UHM Ltd, said that 80% of the 2100 workers employed by the factory have joined work today while the rest are expected to join gradually.
The HR manager also assured that there is no pressure of hurried joining from the owner's end amid the ongoing lockdown.
Owners of several other factories have also reported the presence of around 90% of workers in their factories.
According to factory authorities, the current attendance rate is more than they had expected as on regular days about 5% of the workers are usually absent.
Earlier on 30 July, the cabinet division issued a notification in this connection after business leaders had kept asking the government for permission to operate factories amid the ongoing lockdown.
After the announcement was made, the country witnessed a mad rush of workers hitting roads to reach their respective workplaces in time despite the deteriorating Covid situation in the country.
Thousands of workers on their way to workplaces have had to endure endless suffering after they got a notice from factory authorities on their mobile phones to join work.
Ignoring health and social distancing directives, hundreds of thousands of workers have travelled in crammed goods transports, auto-rickshaws, rickshaw vans and even walked to reach their workplaces in Dhaka and Narayanganj and Gazipur to apparently save their jobs.
Commuters had to pay five to 10 times higher fares just to reach their destinations before their factories reopened. In such a long journey of hundreds of kilometres, the rain has added to their misery.
Meanwhile, thousands of factory workers blocked the Dhaka-bound highway in Rangpur yesterday failing to get vehicles to reach Dhaka under strict lockdown restrictions on Saturday.
Under the circumstances, the government later allowed the operation of all public transports till Sunday 12pm to facilitate the journey of Dhaka-bound factory workers. During this period, bus, launch and train services will be operational in all routes across the country as a 14-day strict lockdown has been in place till 5 August.
Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told The Business Standard that workers cannot be forced to return to work at a time when factories are set to open. Factories will be reopened with only workers living nearby.
While factories will reopen, they must strictly maintain all health protocols, including ensuring social distancing at entrances and exits too, he said.
Faruque also assured that workers will not lose their jobs if they fail to rejoin work during the lockdown, adding that once the lockdown is lifted workers can gradually return to work.
But workers' leaders complained that the statement of the BGMEA president did not match the reality.
The same thing happened during the first round of coronavirus shut down last year when thousands of workers walked over many kilometres or used goods transports to return to work.
The return of a large number of people from village homes paying without following a modicum of health safety guidelines has also raised fears of further deterioration of the pandemic situation in the country.
Starting from 23 July, factories were supposed to be closed till 5 August as part of the government's efforts to rein in an alarming spike in Covid-19 infections, but following repeated demands from business leaders, the government decided to ease the restrictions from 1 August.
However, the government did not provide any instruction on how workers would return to work when public transports have remained suspended.
On the other hand, factory owners said they would start operations with the workers staying near factory areas and those in their home villages would join work in phases.
But workers say the reality is different. Many factories have phoned workers or sent them text messages, asking them to join work as factories will resume on 1 August.