The Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) has been making a guideline for reopening the garment factories, most of which have been asked to shut down by the sector's apex trade body on April 11.
The factories were supposed to reopen on April 26. But given the exponential rise in cases of COVID-19 and the proximity in which the sector's 4 million-odd workers operate, the factories were asked to abandon the plan.
The guideline will mainly instruct the factory managements on how to run the units following health safety measures, Shibnath Roy, inspector general of the DIFE told The Daily Star over the phone.
He has discussed the health issues of the garment workers and the reopening of the factories with the experts of the International Labour Organisation.
While Roy did not say specifically when the factories will reopen, he said the factory managements will have to follow the proposed guidelines.
The DIFE in its all three notices since March 27 said only those factories with work orders from international retailers or are engaged in the production of personal protective equipment and coronavirus prevention-related medicines can run their units by taking adequate health safety measures.
Once the government announces the return of normalcy the factory managements may reopen their units, Roy also said.
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the sector's apex trade body, said the date for restarting the production line will depend solely on the coronavirus situation in the country.
"We are still working with the safety protocols and also expecting a clear guideline from government," it said on Tuesday.
Labour leaders though said the issue is a complex one.
On one hand, some buyers are putting pressure on the factory owners for executing their work orders, and on the other hand, the number of infected patients is also increasing in the country every day, said Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation.
The decision to reopen the factories is in the state's hand, but the government, factory owners and buyers should show responsible behaviour towards the workers.
Akter suggested for wider discussion involving owners, union leaders, government higher-ups and the related experts before making any call on the start date.
"It will not be wise to reopen the factories now. Every day the tally is going up," said Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation.
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of Policy Research Institute, advocated for gradual reopening of the factories, starting from next month.
"We have to open the factories as almost all the affected countries have already opened their economies. We will be lagging if we do not open the factories soon," he said, citing that competing countries like China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Turkey have already opened up their economies.
However, the health and safety measures should be followed carefully, he said, adding that the factory managements can make preparations for those from now on.
For instance, there can be several exit and entry gates in the factories. The workers will enter through one gate and will exit through another, a move that can prevent overcrowding.
Moreover, regular handwashing and cleaning of floors and washrooms while wearing hand gloves must be enforced, he added.