A large number of garment factories are not maintaining social distancing as per the health safety guidelines on the working floor and factory entrances, increasing the risks of coronavirus infections.
At the same time, it is very tough for the workers to maintain the distance at their residences as most of them live in a ten by eight feet room shared by three to four people.
Besides, the workers go to their factories on foot by their thousands flouting social distancing.
A similar situation was seen at factories outside the capital, mainly in Savar, Ashulia, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chattogram.
Meanwhile, two garment workers have tested positive for coronavirus. They worked at separate factories in Ashulia and Jashore.
Pirojpur Upazila Health and Family Planning Officer Shishir Ranjan Odhikari said the sample of the Ashulia garment worker had been collected from his village home at Sikdar Mallik Union in Pirojpur on April 23.
He tested positive for Covid-19 on April 27.
Meanwhile, he joined the work at his factory in Ashulia on April 25. The name of his factory could not be known.
In another development, Jashore Civil Surgeon office yesterday confirmed that a female garment worker tested positive for coronavirus.
She worked at a factory owned by Devine Group at Chaugacha upazia in the district.
Following the test result, her coworkers staged demonstrations forcing the authorities to close the factory, confirmed Upazila Nirbahi Officer Zahidul Islam.
Her sample for Covid-19 test was collected on Sunday and then sent to the laboratory of Jashore Science and Technology University.
In another development, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, after a meeting with BGMEA and BKMEA leaders yesterday, said owners were opening their factories by maintaining the necessary health safety guidelines.
The authorities had set deadlines for opening factories in different locations in phases.
The deadline for the factories in Ashulia, Savar, Dhamrai and Manikganj was April 28-29. Factories in Narsingdi, Rupganj and Kanchpur were scheduled to open on April 30 while the Gazipur and Mymensingh factories were set to resume their operations on May 2-3.
The deadline for factories in Narayanganj was from April 26-30.
But, violating the deadlines, the factories reopened simultaneously on Sunday.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) high officials have admitted that one of their member factories on Monday ignored the association's safety guidelines.
The BGMEA has issued a circular asking its members to abide by the health guidelines at factories.
Workers said most factories were not maintaining these guidelines. They added that some factories in Savar and Ashulia belonging to large groups resumed operation with up to 70 percent workforce.
The circular mentioned that workers had vandalised a factory over health issues as the management brought 4,000 workers at a time to resume production.
The unwanted situation was created at the factory for the violation of BGMEA's health safety guidelines, the circular added.
Preferring anonymity, an operator of the factory named Next Collection – a concern of the Ha-Meem Group – told The Business Standard, "We have been asked to join work on Monday. Otherwise, we will be terminated."
Ratna Akhter, an operator of a factory in Ashulia owned by a former president of the BGMEA, said, "We are going to factories risking infections. When senior officials call us, we must join work."
"We have no guarantee of life because we have to go to work on foot in big crowds every day. It is not possible to maintain distance," she said.
"Almost 70 percent workers have already joined the work. Those who are still staying at their villages have the uncertainty about their April wages," added Ratna.
Workers said on Tuesday a number of factories in Ashuli area resumed operation with 70 to 80 percent of their workers. The owners of those factories are former leaders of the BGMEA and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI).
However, the scenario was totally different at Dhaka city's three factories The Business Standard visited. One of them is Urmi Garments at Tejgaon Industrial Area. The factory was running with only 220 workers out of its total 1,750 workers.
Its General Manager MD Shamsul Alam Bhuiyan said, "We are making personal protective equipment with a limited workforce to maintain social distancing for the safety of our workers."
Sammilita Garments Shramik Federation President Nazma Akhter told The Business Standard, "Large garment factories, including those owned by BGMEA current and former leaders, have started their operations with the majority of workers, completely ignoring social distancing guidelines."
Workers were forced to return to cities from their village homes, said Nazma, alleging that factory owners had sent messages to workers asking them to join on time, otherwise they would be marked as absent.
The BGMEA said it had asked its members to maintain the health safety guidelines at their factories.
Considering health hazards, BGMEA guidelines also asked factory owners to start initial operation with up to 30 percent workers from April 26-30 in the first phase.
They also asked that factories would be allowed to engage 50 percent of their workers in the second phase during May 2-21 to boost their production.
An official of BGMEA, asking not to be named, said the association had a field-level monitoring system – including surprise visits from zone-wise teams.
"We have formed six teams headed by our six directors to monitor field-level monitoring teams and factories and advice on safety issues," said the official.
Referring to Tuesday's monitoring report, the official said, "We have conducted surprise inspections at 27 factories and found 25 of them in a very good condition."
It would continue, he added.
Nazma Akhter said monitoring should be done by government agencies, brands and buyers to make the factory owners more accountable about workers' health safety.
About 1,300 garment and textile factories have resumed their operation across the country over the last three days.
Nearly 4,000 apparel workers on Tuesday morning turned up at their factory entrance at the Chattogram Export Processing Zone (EPZ).
They were provided with soaps and advised to wash their hands prior to joining the production lines.
However, the workers crowded for cleansing their hands as there were just a few washbasins at the factory entrance.
To maintain social distancing inside the factory, the workers required nearly 12,000 feet space. But the scenario was the same old – working in the production line closely together. The textile workers neither had masks nor hand gloves.
Mamun (not the real name), a garment worker of a Chattogram EPZ factory, said, "Our factory is massive, the number of workers is too big as well. We all worked sitting closely as the factory does not have the space required for social distancing."
Hundreds of factories are open at the EPZ located in Chattogram's Pre-Port area. The Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) told the factories to continue with 20-25 percent workers — which estimates nearly 50,000 workers.
The EPZ entry gates were crammed with the half lakh workers on both Monday and Tuesday morning. They were desperate for money as they turned up as soon as the factories reopened Monday.
Meantime, Chattogram EPZ General Manager Md Khorshid Alam said the factories were told to follow the health measures strictly.
"We will take action against any health advisory flouting factory upon receiving a complaint," he said.
Many RMG manufacturers in Narayanganj, one of the coronavirus hotspots, could not ensure the health safety of workers as they resumed production on a limited-scale this week.
Nearly 200 apparel factories reopened in the district in the last four days with 40 to 50 percent workers. RMG labour leaders alleged that many of the factories neither have thermal scanner nor provided the workers with face masks and hand gloves.
A garment worker in Narayanganj's Shiddhirganj area said that the factory only has handwashing arrangement.
"When we asked the owners for masks and hand gloves, they said we would have to buy those ourselves if we needed the protective measures," said the worker.
Another knitting section worker at Fatullah BSCIC area of Narayanganj said, "My factory is not maintaining social distancing at the production lines. We are working closely standing side by side."
Besides, workers complained about gatherings at the entrances and using a single toilet by hundreds of people.
The Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) said it was monitoring the health safety issues.
"We are prioritizing the health of workers. We hope the owners will ensure workers' safety at their respective units," said Mohammad Hatem, first vice president of the BKMEA.
Meanwhile, thousands of workers have been rushing towards Gazipur and Dhaka from different districts for the last couple of days. The desperate workers are covering the routes on foot, rickshaw-vans or small trucks in absence of public transportations.
The workers alleged that their owners threatened them to dismiss if they fail to join work.
Abul Hashem left his home in Sirajganj on Tuesday dawn for Dhaka.
"No matter how far Dhaka is, I must reach there to save my job," he told The Business Standard on Tuesday afternoon at Chandra bus stand of Kaliakair, Gazipur.
Hashem said the journey was terrible amid the shutdown and he did not know when he would reach his workplace.
Many workers echoed Hashem and said they were rushing to the garments as their supervisors told them to return.
Gazipur Industrial Police Inspector Islam Hosen said that police would not bar the workers if the factories reopened amid the pandemic.
"But we will work in industrial areas to ensure social distancing and other protective measures," he added.