‘The risks are grave. We don’t want to go back to work right away.’
On the previous occasions of May Day, we were demanding our rights, safety for our workers, freedom of association, gender equality, living wages and many other issues.
But this May Day we have a bigger fight than we ever imagined: we are also fighting COVID-19, which has led to hundreds of thousands of workers losing their jobs, losing their pay and fighting with police and factory owners.
Now we are demanding job security and social protection, the payment of wages and proper social distancing. Many have still not been paid for March. The situation is so serious -- hundreds of thousands of people are now facing immediate risks to their lives and livelihoods.
Under the present circumstances, I think it is much too soon to open factories, but the pressure on us is immense and the government has instructed us to reopen.
Brands are also pushing as some stores in America and Europe are starting to reopen and they want us to go back to work as well.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association has asked for our support to open the factories.
We said we would like all the ministries to sit together with the labour representatives and talk about how to open the factories. But they did not do this. They decided just to open the factories.
Now, the government, unions, related ministries and brands should all monitor the situation in all the factories. We must ensure this is being done correctly.
There is nothing more important in this world than the lives and safety of the people making these clothes. Many other countries are putting the health of their citizens first. Bangladesh must do this also.
The consequences of putting competitiveness and profit before workers' health are too grave. If their health and safety are not protected, there will be no industry left to speak of.
Some brands have behaved well and respected orders, but many others -- in fact, the majority -- have not. And these are not small companies. They are not respecting the rights of workers -- our rights are not properly protected in the supply chain.
There is no respect, there is no dignity and there is no legal protection.
If workers are affected and die of coronavirus infections, suppliers and brands should be held responsible.
We all know there has never been enough responsibility or liability for workers' sufferings and deaths.
Workers have died for these companies who promised accidents like the Rana Plaza collapse will never happen again and still, they are asking us to reopen factories and risk our lives.
Workers are saying the risks are grave and they do not want to go back to work at this moment like they had said just before the Rana Plaza disaster when the building's owners ignored warnings to avoid using the building after cracks had appeared the day before.
The writer is the president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation, a platform of garment workers