Demand made keeping workers' health and safety in best interest, they say
Owners of all export-oriented factories, including apparel ones, demanded keeping their factories open despite the weeklong strict lockdown set to be enforced from Monday.
If the factories remain closed, work orders would get cancelled and shipment of orders would also be affected, they also said.
Moreover, the owners also said that if their workers attended their shifts, they could ensure safe and sound health due to rigorous health directives, which could not be guaranteed if they went back to their respective villages.
Faruque Hassan, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Association (BGMEA), told Dhaka Tribune that workers will rush to their villages if the garment factories shut down, which would ensure chaos. That is why the factories must remain open.
He also said that work orders in the apparel sector were beginning to increase, and that all efforts would go in vain if the factories closed down again.
“Moreover, the buyers may refuse to take half-finished orders if shipment is delayed. In this case, if the buyers move to our competitive countries, it will be a serious blow to our sector,” said Faruque Hassan.
He also said that if the order is canceled, the factories will struggle to pay the wages, bonus, and other allowances to the workers for Eid-ul-Azha and also struggle to repay their bank loans.
“It is beneficial to keep factories open rather than keeping them closed. The infection cases in the apparel sector are very low. Being the lifeline of the country's economy, we demand to keep RMG factories open,” he added.
Mohammad Hatem, vice-president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), told Dhaka Tribune that the apparel factories would remain open in the lockdown under special arrangements.
“If the factories close again, exports would go down again like last year. There is also pressure from buyers to ship the finished products on time. Our work orders increased recently, but if our factories shut down, all our efforts to increase those orders would go down the drain," said the BKMEA vice president.
He also said that if factories were open, the workers would remain in a disciplined and healthy environment. But if they closed, the workers would rush back to their villages while disregarding health directives, even possibly contracting Covid-19.
“Ahead of Eid, factories have to pay wages and bonuses to the workers. If the factories are closed, we will not be able to take that pressure. I think keeping the factory open in a healthy environment will be beneficial for our sector,” he added.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Mohammad Fazlul Haque, vice president of Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) said that they also wanted factories to remain open the same way as they were during the countrywide shutdown last year.
“Almost all our member factories have half-finished orders. If we do not deliver on time, our goodwill will be ruined. In fact, even our domestic buyers such as RMG factories, to whom we provide spins and textile products, will not pay us if they cannot export their apparel products,” he feared.
“I think factories should be kept open to continue the current trend of exports, which will help to pay wages and bonuses of the workers and also repay bank loans. In this case, the government can give more strict health directives if necessary. But we want to keep factories open by maintaining these,” Haque added.
Salauddin Swapan, acting president of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC), told Dhaka Tribune that the factories have been kept open since last year to maintain the export trend.
But in this case many government instructions are not being obeyed, he also said.
“It was announced at every lockdown that the factories would arrange for transportation of their respective workers to/from their homes. But in many cases, it was not followed. As a result, the workers had to go to the factory in high-risk vehicles at high fares or by foot. Either way they were harassed by law enforcers,” he added.
“We do not want this kind of suffering anymore. Moreover, we have two clear demands, if the factories are open in lockdown, the workers must receive risk allowance and travel allowance,” said Salauddin Swapan.
The government has announced a seven-day nationwide strict lockdown from Monday to prevent further spread of coronavirus infection. Surath Kumar Sarkar, chief information officer of the Information Department said it in a press release issued on Friday.