It’s the only time of the year when they get a hard-earned break
The factory doors swing open very early morning at 5:45am. Workers start pouring in a little differently dressed today.
The mood, their gestures, and the words they exchange as they alight from the buses are not the same as those of usual working days. They are all dressed in the best clothes they can afford, with all the humble jewellery they could lay their hands on, colourful head scarves, nice shoes, and fancy bags and, of course, some makeup.
Though it’s a working day, the mood is not of work; it is of festivity, celebration, and sharing goodies. In fact, this has become a tradition over the decades and happens every year during Eid in thousands of RMG factories around the country.
The last working day before the long holiday for Eid is always abuzz with lots of smiles and talks of the celebrations about to follow.
This is the time to celebrate, time to meet near and dear ones, time to brave all the odds of the journey to reach home. They receive their salaries, count their hard-earned money, keep it safe, clean and cover the machines, put away their works in progress, and close their lockers to store their humble daily needs.
They remain in a hurry to say goodbye to their bosses and co-workers. It is forbidden to exchange any kinds of gifts in their workplaces.
This has probably been imposed to maintain a professional environment, and to ensure that workers do not indulge in things that might lead to unwanted issues.
They spend long hours in the factory with their bosses who work in various capacities of supervision and management. In fact, mid-level managerial and supervisory staff members on the floor are the ones who play a pivotal role in handling the workers and getting the actual job done.
The workers spend their time in the continuous running of their machines, and endure the screaming and shouting from these staff members who always drive them to the limits of their capacity to reach their target in terms of production.
Yet they develop a kind of understanding and cordial relationship. That is what persuades them to bring some simple gifts nicely wrapped in spite of the authorities’ ban on it.
On this occasion, the management also takes a rather lenient view, and lets the workers enjoy some flexibility, breaking the monotony of strict floor discipline and lessen the workload to support their festive mood. Many of the workers even indulge in decorating their workstations with balloons, runners, and colourful festoons.
On usual working days, they happen to pass more time at their workplaces than at home if the journey time from and to their residence is considered. They go back to their residence only to prepare and come back for the next day.
They love their workplace. It makes them proud, as it is a source of their livelihood, their freedom, and empowerment. It is through their humble earning that they nourish their body and soul, send their children to school, care for their parents, and nurture dreams of their prosperous future.
It is this sense of pride and belonging that imbues them with the spirit of facing all the odds with indomitable mental courage and physical strength.
The last one month had been quite arduous for them in a sense that most of them had observed the month-long fast; the extra effort needed for iftar and sehri with their families notwithstanding, the factory work went on as usual.
They could hardly afford the minimum essential hours of sleep at night. Many of them had to start for their factory immediately after the early morning meal. They had to bear with 10 or even at times more hours of gruelling work.
They went through all these with smiling faces and with lots of preparation and hopes of celebration of the great event that is Eid. They had some grievances that they could not get a single day off for their Eid shopping.
Yet, they somehow managed to keep themselves fit for their work under so much pressure. For the last 15 days, many of them worked without a break for a day, even on Fridays. Of course, they will be paid overtime for whatever hours they worked.
The pressure to meet shipment deadlines always remains a plea for the management to motivate and counsel the workers to undertake such backbreaking labour.
As a part of preparation for such vacations, the management always counsels their workers, highlighting a host of relevant aspects, including their personal safety and security during their respective journeys.
They are asked not to board buses and launches as surplus passengers, thus risking their lives. But in practice, the toiling masses hardly have a choice. They cannot afford to go for early booking of their travel tickets.
They board already overloaded transports, be it on the road or on water. They remain worried whether they will make it to their home and back to work safe. Over the years, we have not been able to make it much safer.
With all these uncertainties, they hope to come back with good memories of their near and dear ones, safe and refreshed to resume their jobs as usual.
Deaths on the roads at this time of festivity are rather common and unfortunate.
Is it too much to ask that they should be able to meet and greet their near and dear ones and come back safe to their workplaces?
Brig Gen Qazi Abidus Samad, ndc, psc (Retd) takes care of HR and admin in a multinational RMG company in Adamjee EPZ.