Owners for running garment factories during lockdown
Garment factory owners have expressed their intention to keep running their industrial units during the upcoming lockdown, while union leaders are divided on the issues of ensuring workers' safety and livelihoods.
Factory owners and a section of union leaders think that if the shipment of goods cannot be made on time, the work orders may shift to other countries.
"As the whole country is going on a lockdown, why won't the garment sector do the same?" asked Nazma Akter, president of the Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation.
Even during the last lockdown, some of the garment factory owners did not properly provide transportation services to carry workers between their homes and workplaces despite giving their commitment on it, she said.
The transportation that was managed was of low quality and did not maintain the much-required social distancing protocols, Akter said.
In fact, many factory owners do not follow the lockdown and health guidelines properly and do not even visit the factories, but the workers and some executives continue working, risking their lives, she also said.
So it is very logical that they are paid risk allowances, said the labour leader.
When it came to lockdowns and running factories over the last one and a half years, the government in most cases took decisions in favour of the factory owners while workers' interests were ignored, Akter told The Daily Star over the phone.
"The demands of the workers did not get priority during the lockdown. The factory owners did not manage safe workplaces and safe transportation," she alleged.
Sirajul Islam Rony, a representative of garment workers at the last minimum wage board, said many workers came to work on foot in the absence of transportation facilities and small vehicles like "easy bikes".
He, however, advocated in favour of running the factories during the lockdown as Eid-ul-Azha was knocking at the door.
The workers will need salary and festival allowance, he said, adding that if the owners cannot produce goods on time, they would face difficulties in paying the workers timely.
Moreover, the infection rate among the garment workers is still very low as the factory managements follow the health guidelines strictly, Rony also told The Daily Star over the phone.
Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said the garment factory owners support the lockdown decision as it was to save lives.
"But at the same time, livelihoods are also important. So, keeping the garment factories out of the purview of the lockdown is a good decision," Hassan said, reasoning that the infection rate was very low among garment workers.
"We have a lot of work orders from our buyers now as the western retail outlets reopened after vaccination. The factories need to make timely shipments and pay the workers ahead of Eid-ul-Azha," Hassan also said.
Since the government put a bar on the movement of public transport, the factory owners may even run their units at low capacity, considering that workers could fail to reach workplaces due to the lack of transport, he said.
However, many factories arrange transportation of their own for carrying the workers, he said. More than 90 per cent of workers reside close to the factories, so they do not need any transportation, he added.
Mohammad Hatem, vice-president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, echoed Hassan.
Running factories is important and logical for catering to the timely shipment of goods and workers' payment before Eid-ul-Azha.
Akhtaruzzman Khan, president of the Bangladesh Hotel Restaurant Bakery Sramik Union, said they supported the lockdown.
But the restaurants and sweetmeat shops need to be allowed to run following health guidelines. Otherwise, 30 lakh workers will be in big trouble, he added.
Kazi Iftaquer Hossain, president of the Bangladesh Garment Buying House Association, sought to continue keeping offices open at low capacity as it was the peak season for receiving work orders from international clothing retailers and brands.
Osman Ali, general secretary of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, demanded that the government provide them rice at Tk 10 per kilogram and a Tk 5,000 allowance per month and ensure monthly payment of salaries.