According to a study conducted by the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) in association with Microfinance Opportunities (MFO), nearly eight percent of garment workers reported that they were unemployed in September, up from five percent in August. Even though the proportion of workers that were subject to factory closures, leave without pay, suspension, underemployment or layoffs was 21 percent in May, it declined gradually over June, July and August. But in September, it picked up again.
Despite the indications that the economy is on the rebound following the lifting of the lockdown, we are concerned because the employment and food security of garment workers remain uncertain amid the risk of a potential second wave of coronavirus infections expected in the coming winter, which will worsen their woes. Besides, many workers received delayed payments in March and April, many factory owners did not provide full bonuses to their workers while others faced layoffs, and as a result, the workload weighed heavily on the remaining garment workers. Their median monthly work hours have also increased. Their livelihoods will take a further blow should the importing countries suffer from a second wave.
As uncertainty looms regarding the employment situation and food security, the government must not forget the plight of RMG workers. It should continue to allocate the necessary funds to battle possible challenges. It is of utmost importance to set up a backup plan and ready the policies or programmes needed to alleviate the potential loss of employment and safeguard the workers. While the need for inclusive growth is essential, prioritising the RMG workers will surely help boost the sector to regain its once strong foothold.