RMG exporters want factories up and running
Garment factory owners and union leaders are at loggerheads over the imminent tough lockdown the government is set to impose across the country to curb the rising cases of coronavirus infections.
Owners want to keep their factories up and running, while union leaders called for a closure of factories and a full payment of the wages for workers during the lockdown period.
The government plans to go for a large-scale lockdown from April 14 for seven days as its current efforts have not had much impact on bringing down the infection rate.
"We do not have the luxury to shut our factories as we have been on a recovery path from the devastating impacts of the first wave of Covid-19," said Fazlul Hoque, managing director of Narayanganj-based Plummy Fashions Ltd.
When international buyers are placing orders for the next autumn and winter seasons, any pause in production will put the industry in deep trouble.
"The order may be shifted to other countries as they have not imposed any lockdown. We will be isolated from the rest of the world if the lockdown is imposed. No competing countries such as China, Vietnam and Cambodia are in lockdown at the moment," he said.
Local suppliers will face order cancellation, deferral payment, discount for delayed shipment, or expensive air shipment if the production is halted due to the lockdown, Hoque said.
"The lockdown will be suicidal for the garment sector as shipments are going on in full swing now," said Mostafiz Uddin, managing director of Denim Expert Ltd, a Chattogram-based factory.
He is one of the sufferers who had faced a lot of order cancellations during the first wave of the pandemic. "My buyers want continued shipment of goods as they also have a business plan."
"My buyers have already said that they would not extend the order execution time. I will face expensive air shipments of goods."
If factories are shut, Bangladesh will face fewer new orders.
"Buyers are exhausted due to last year's liability, store closure, and piling of stocks," said a top official of a buying house in Dhaka.
So, buyers might have to go for harder decisions such as cancellation without liability and shifting orders, he said.
Mohammed Abdus Salam, acting president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said if the lockdown was imposed, the garment sector would go into a long holiday like during Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha.
"So, the sector will not be able to bear the losses."
Salam also the infection rate in the garment industry was too low as owners had taken a lot of safety measures as per the government's guidelines.
Mohammad Hatem, vice-president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), said no competing countries were in lockdown now.
"They will do business, and we will lose our business," Hatem said, adding that factory owners had been running their units following the health guidelines.
The lockdown will affect the sourcing decisions of buyers as the factories in other apparel-producing countries are open, said Faruque Hassan, president-elect of the BGMEA.
During Ramadan, factories usually ship two months' equivalent of products in order to offset the production closure during Eid holidays.
"So, any lockdown in Ramadan means we will fail to carry out all these shipments. Buyers will hardly agree to take them after two months," he said.
Because of the safety measures taken by the factories, the infection rate among garment workers has been nominal, he said.
"So, I think the safety measures are enough to protect the workers from Covid-19," he added.
Citing a survey of the US-based Workers Rights Consortium, Faruque said buyers cut the price by almost 30 per cent after the pandemic.
"We are already struggling to stay afloat. The existence of four million workers hinges on the industry. So, factories cannot sustain and survive if any lockdown is enforced," said Hassan.
"I think the lockdown is okay for seven days. It should not be more than that," said Sirajul Islam Rony, a former member of the minimum wage board for the garment workers.
"The sector might not face any big losses if a weeklong lockdown is imposed," he said.
However, factory owners must not deprive any worker of wages and other incentives.
"Such incidents happened during the lockdown last year. Many workers lost their jobs and faced a reduction in salaries and festival allowances," he said.
Md Towhidur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers' Federation, called for full payment for the workers even if any lockdown is imposed in the sector.
Nazma Akter, president of the Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation, said if the lockdown caused workers' layoff, it would be very bad.
"Every worker must be paid fully during the lockdown. We will have to follow the government decisions."
The BGMEA, the BKMEA, the BTMA and the Exporters Association of Bangladesh would hold a joint press conference at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka today to call on the government not to order any factory closure.