The Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) has launched an investigation to find out whether the garment factories that are going for temporary closures following mass order cancellations are doing so by the book.
The trend of temporary shuttering is a matter of concern as the government on March 25 announced a Tk 5,000 crore package for export-oriented factories to help them pay their workers' salaries for three months, which usually tend to be their major overheads.
"So, we will mainly find out whether the factories laid off the workers following the rules of Bangladesh Labour Act or not," said Shibnath Roy, inspector general of the DIFE, which published a notice in this connection on April 17 seeking information from factory management.
The Deputy Inspector Generals of the DIFE have been investigating the factories since April 17 and a report is expected this week.
If any factory wants to temporarily close it must inform the DIFE and fill in a specific form, popularly known as form 10. But very few have informed the DIFE or filled in the form so far.
The full list of factories that have abandoned production without following the rules will be sent to the labour ministry for punitive action.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association last week said the factories that have no work because of the pandemic are within their rights to temporarily shutter as per provisions in the labour law.
"Laying off a worker during such a critical moment is illegal and unjust," said Amirul Haque Amin, president of National Garment Workers Federation.
The reason being, workers will not get their full remuneration but 53 per cent of their gross salary.
If the management sees their problems prolonging, they can choose Article 16 of the labour law that will allow 45 days of closure.
"If any factory has gone out of production for such a long time, the management can easily terminate the workers," Amin also said.
Nearly 50 per cent of the garment factories have temporarily shuttered, Amin said, adding that the number would have been a lot higher had the government not warned the factory management.
The finance ministry in a notice on April 19 said the factories that have temporarily shuttered would not be eligible to enjoy the stimulus package to pay the workers' salaries.
So, many are now forfeiting their plans, Amin said.
But a good portion is sticking to their plan. "It is not free money. The factory owners will have to pay it back," he added.
The management cannot announce temporary closure during the general holiday, said Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation.
Jafrul Hasan Sharif, a labour law expert, supported Akter's view.
"It is not covered by the law."
The constitution of Bangladesh in Section 152 said any notice of the government during any emergency is a law.
The government announced a general holiday in the notice, so the workers are also under the general holidays.
"The factory management cannot run the production units, cannot temporarily shutter them and cannot terminate the workers," Shatif added.
Uttam Kumar Das, an advocate of the Bangladesh Supreme Court, termed the move as immoral and illogical considering the current situation.
"The factory management should not go for temporary suspension although they have the right to do so as private property."
There is a lot of ambiguity in the government notice on general holidays.
"All those should have been cleared and explained," he said, adding that issues like workers' payments, layoffs and positions of the factory management should have been clearly defined in the notice.