More garment factories have reopened in the industrial areas across the country yesterday amid demonstrations by laid off workers and those demanding arrears.
At least 1,820 factories reopened yesterday, a day after 1,427 other export-oriented units reopened, industrial police officials said, adding that there are a total of 7,602 such factories across the country.
Bangladesh is still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and there is no sign that the outbreak has been contained.
Most of the cases detected are from Dhaka, Saver, Gazipur and Narayanganj. These places are also hubs of most of the factories.
Owners association leaders said only a fraction of the workforce would be at the factories and precautions would be taken to prevent contagion.
However, experts and union leaders expressed concerns.
Of the factories that reopened yesterday there are 718 BGMEA, 157 BKMEA, 72 Bangladesh Textile Mills Association members, and 206 are under Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority. Besides, there are 667 other garment factories that reopened yesterday.
At least 387 factories reopened in Dhaka, Savar and Ashulia, 527 in Gazipur, 519 in Chattogram, 225 in Narayanganj, 78 in Mymensingh and 84 in Khulna.
Ratna Akter, a worker at a factory in the capital's Mirpur, said about half the workers had joined and all of them were wearing masks. They were also asked to wash hands before entering and at every one-hour interval.
She and many other workers from different factories said there were arrangements for washing hands at the entrances, they sat maintaining social distance and officials checked whether they had symptoms of coronavirus infection.
However, many workers from different factories in Savar, Ashulia, and Mirpur said the health safety measures were inadequate and barely anything had changed in the way they worked.
Workers of a group of garment companies in Ashulia's Norshinghopur area refused to work during the coronavirus crises.
ON HIGHWAYS ON FOOT
Scores of workers were seen walking on the highways.
Social distancing, which is crucial in preventing the spread of coronavirus, was not maintained. Many jammed into pickups and trucks or hitchhiked their way into the factories amid the travel restrictions.
Many had their children with them. The factories should have arranged transport for them, labour leaders said.
Workers of Sharmin Group demanded one work-shift instead of two, said Ismail Hossain, managing director of the group.
Some of them damaged equipment and in the evening, they agreed to work two shifts, he said.
Ismail said two shifts would ensure social distancing among the factory's 7,000 workers.
Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association Vice-president Mohammad Hatem said member factories were asked to reopen the knitting and dyeing sections.
"BKMEA member factories have been opened on a limited scale after consultation with the government," he said.
"The factories have taken precautions."
In Chattogram, many factories have not been maintaining the coronavirus restrictions, workers said.
About 1.5 lakh workers of these factories have joined work since Sunday, they added.
They also had to walk for hours to reach Chattogram.
EXPERTS HAVE CONCERN
Most of the factories are not following the health protocols properly, said Ahsan H Mansur, executive director at Policy Research Institute (PRI).
At a discussion on Saturday at Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, it was decided that a health protocol will be developed both by the government and by the garment sector trade bodies and training would be provided to the key executives and workers before reopening.
After completion of those formalities, the factories were supposed to reopen from May 4 or 5 in phases, Mansur told The Daily Star.
Unfortunately, the factories started reopening from the next day without the health protocols.
As a result, there are hardly any changes in many factories, he said, adding that it will create a bad image for the country as well as for the sector.
"The workers are being made vulnerable. They may get infected. We are heading towards an image crisis." Mansur said.
Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation said she is not satisfied with the health safety and social distancing measures taken by the factories.
Some factories are maintaining the health safety measures and many are not, Nazma observed.
"If any worker is infected with the coronavirus, the factory management will have to take the responsibility. We will not take the responsibility," Akter told The Daily Star by phone.
She also suggested the factory owners to visit the factories regularly as they pushed the workers in the workplaces defying the fear of infection of coronavirus.