Misleading, exaggerated, dated
The findings of the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) on job losses and shuttering of garment factories for the coronavirus pandemic have been trashed by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE).
At a press conference in National Press Club on Thursday, BILS said the layoffs and shuttering involved some 1,915 garment factories while some 324,684 workers lost their jobs between April and July.
Moreover, some 60 per cent of the workers were apprehending losing their jobs as a fallout of the coronavirus, the report stated.
The BILS higher-ups said the study was carried out with information provided by DIFE, BGMEA and the Industrial Police.
However, both DIFE and BGMEA said the number of layoffs and shuttering was not as high as was presented in the study.
In a press statement yesterday, BGMEA categorically disagreed with the findings.
"It would not be an exaggeration if the study report is termed as the default of morality," the statement read.
Some 300 small and medium factories, most of which work on subcontracts, had shut down during the study period, said Rezwan Selim, a director of BGMEA who handles labour issues and factory shutdowns.
These small BGMEA-member factories could not avail government soft loans at 2 per cent service charge as they could not fulfil a lot of the terms and conditions, he said.
About 48,000 workers have lost their jobs in and around Dhaka and they are from the subcontracting factories that were not receiving work orders from their mother factories.
"The BILS figures are too high and misleading," he said, adding that the factories, by and large, are running at 70 per cent capacity now as the buyers are coming back.
He went on to cite recent export figures to further his point about the inaccuracy of the BILS figures.
Between 1 and 22 August, garment export from Bangladesh increased 45.8 per cent year-on-year to $2.4 billion.
"If the job terminations and shuttering of factories had been as high as BILS mentioned, the export figures would not have risen by such a margin," he added.
The study's findings were inconsistent with what was in reality, said Shibnath Roy, inspector general of DIFE.
About 26,000 workers were terminated during this pandemic, according to DIFE.
A few factories did shut down and some workers had been laid off at the beginning of April but the figures are not as high as BILS stated, he said.
Moreover, some small and medium factories either shut down or went for layoffs for a brief period in April and May, he said.
Though the government instructed a general shutdown from 26 March, it was not applicable on factories with production ongoing based on work orders at hand.
Officially, DIFE never instructed the factory owners to shut down or go for layoffs during the pandemic, Roy said.
"The situation in the garment sector is quite peaceful now because the number of incidents of labour unrest is very few, almost zero."
The international retailers are coming back and the factories are running quite well.
In fact, this month DIFE did not receive any complaint from any worker or union about terminations or factory shutdowns, Roy added.
Some 26 member factories reported shutting down while no factory reported layoffs, said Mohammad Hatem, vice-president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
"The BILS data is too high," he added.
Amirul Haque Amin, the vice-chairman of BILS, admitted that the study had a lot of limitations.
The report's findings are at least two months old.
"By this time, the situation in the garment sector improved a lot as there was almost no labour unrest for payment and termination. We should have updated the number of job losses and factory shutdowns," Amin told The Daily Star over the phone.
Moreover, international retailers are now coming back with a lot of work orders while many are reissuing cancelled work orders to the local suppliers.
"The report should have contained the latest updates so that no confusion was created among the people," he said, adding that many of the sector's positive facts have not been reflected.
That the study had limitations and should have incorporated the latest updates were agreed upon by the BILS Director Nazma Yesmin.
She assured providing the latest information to the media soon to avert any confusion.