Garment factories operated in full swing on the second day of the lockdown yesterday although many workers found it difficult to reach their workplaces because of the non-availability of public transport.
Following pleas from industries, the government has kept the export-oriented factories out of the purview of the weeklong lockdown, which began on Wednesday, on condition that owners will maintain health protocols for the workers and ensure transport facility for them under their own management.
In the morning yesterday, the workers entered their workplaces as usual, following safety measures and health guidelines on Covid-19, union leaders and factory owners said.
However, many of the workers came to the factories walking, as the government has banned public transport and factories failed to ensure vehicles for them.
Those who used rickshaws, human haulers or other vehicles were compelled to bear more than double the usual fares.
Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation, a workers' platform, said: "Almost all the factories were running in Ashulia, Savar and Gazipur as usual."
At the factory gates, factory managements mainly prioritised four health measures: mandatory mask-wearing, cleaning hands with sanitizer, washing legs with soap water, and measuring body temperature.
"No untoward incident was noticed as the workers joined their workplaces following health guidelines," he said.
Amin said factory managements should stagger the entry and exit of workers to avoid crowding to contain the virus's spread as several thousand workers work in a factory. The factories may even consider arranging various shifts so that factories do not become overcrowded.
Most of the factories have doctors and nurses, and they are on duty as usual. "There should be doctors and nurses on each floor to check whether any worker is infected with the rogue pathogen, he said.
Md Towhidur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers' Federation, said although most of the factories were following the health guidelines, many workers faced difficulties due to the lack of transports.
The workers who stay far away from the workplaces were supposed to be transported by the factories' own transports. But in many cases, they were not given the facility, he said.
As a result, many workers in Savar, Ashulia and other industrial areas went to their workplaces on foot or used human haulers and rickshaws that charged abnormally high fares, he said.
"The factories that transported their workers failed to maintain the required social distancing," Rahman told The Daily Star.
Md Nasir Uddin Ahmed, inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), said all the inspectors in 23 districts, home to most garment industries, were monitoring the situation at the field-levels and from the control rooms.
"The factory managements have been asked to follow the health guidelines strictly. Otherwise, they will face actions. So far, no infections and major untoward incident were noticed," he said.
The DIFE found that the workers of a factory in Bhaluka walked to their workplace as the owner did not provide transports.
"We cautioned the factory management. The management agreed that it would manage transports for the workers. If it fails to ensure transport for the workers, we will take action against the factory," the DIFE chief said.
Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said almost all of the factories were open.
He said managements had not staggered the entry and exit of the workers.
"Last year, many factories followed the system. We are monitoring it so that they again stagger the entry and exit," he said.
Hassan acknowledged that some small and medium-sized factories were not following the health guidelines properly.
But if a factory does not follow the health rules, it will not be able to do business as there is pressure from international communities, local administrations, and international retailers and brands, he said.
Hassan said the BGMEA had instructed all member factories to provide transport facility to the workers who live far from the factories.
"I have also asked the members to produce less, if necessary, but follow the health guidelines and prioritise the workers' health safety."
If a factory cannot bring the workers from their residences using own transports, they should go for lower production, he said.
"Ensuring health safety of the workers and other employees is very important."
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh, endorsed the decision of running factories during the lockdown as a massive number of workers would have rushed to their village homes if they had been closed.
"This would have spread the virus further," he said.
He called for an independent study to determine the authenticity of the BGMEA data on the infection rate among the workers.
The BGMEA said the infection rate among the workers is 0.03 per cent.
"If the study finds the rate authentic or is in line with the national level, still it will be good to run the factories," he said, calling on the government to strengthen monitoring.