Let factories run during lockdown
Textile and garment manufacturers and exporters yesterday demanded the government allow keeping factories open during the coming lockdown to help them offset the losses caused by the pandemic.
However, a number of business leaders, who held a virtual meeting with Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam yesterday, said they had received assurance from the government that export-oriented factories would be permitted to operate during the strict lockdown.
After the meeting, Faruque Hassan, the president-elect of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said in a WhatsApp message that it was decided that all export-oriented industries would remain up and running during the lockdown, starting from April 14.
Failure to continue production and ship goods in time will cause them huge losses, some garment industry leaders said during a joint press conference in the morning, adding that they feared the work orders might be shifted from Bangladesh to other countries.
The leaders of the BGMEA, the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA), the Bangladesh Terry Towel and Linen Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the Bangladesh Garments Accessories and Packaging Manufacturers, and the Exporters Association of Bangladesh made the plea during the briefing at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka.
"The garment suppliers have been struggling to recover the losses they incurred during the first wave of the pandemic," said Mohammad Abdus Salam," acting president of the BGMEA.
Bangladesh exported garment items worth $34.12 billion in the fiscal year 2018-19. It came down to $27.94 billion in the last fiscal year.
Work orders worth $3.18 billion had either been cancelled or held up by international retailers and brands due to the fallouts of the epidemic. Later, 90 per cent of work orders have been reinstated with discount and delayed payment, Salam said.
"A similar situation may arise again if production is disrupted and timely shipment is missed," he said.
Adequate safety measures have already been taken at the factory levels to protect the workers from Covid-19 infections, said Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, a former president of the BGMEA.
"Wearing masks is mandatory for workers. Washing hands, maintaining distances and using own transportation in case of long-distance travel have been put in place. In many factories, isolation rooms have been set up," Mohiuddin said.
Mohammad Ali Khokon, president of the BTMA, said there was a possibility of missing sales during Pahela Baishakh and Eid-ul-Fitr if local spinners, weavers and dyers could not run their production units.
Salam said two PCR (polymerase chain reaction) labs installed by the BGMEA were testing 200 patients every day.
Ganashasthya Hospital and Care Bangladesh are running a 10-bed isolation unit for female garment workers in partnership with the BGMEA. The BGMEA Hospital in Chattogram has been dedicated to Covid-19 patients, he said.
"If factories are closed, workers will have to go back to villages. Then they would likely to spread the virus or get infected by it. Such a situation will add to the difficulties of the workers, the factory owners, the government, and the country," said Kihak Sung, chairman of Youngone Group, a Korean conglomerate in Bangladesh, in a statement.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation, said the government might keep garment factories open during the lockdown for workers' greater interest, timely payment to the workers, and timely shipments of goods.
"However, factory owners and the government will have to maintain adequate safety measures so that the workers are safe."
Although the factory owners have taken some measures, they are not adequate, and the steps should be strengthened, he said.