A staggering 99.8 percent of the 430 garment workers, covered by a survey, claimed that they were not infected with Covid-19, according to a study by Manusher Jonno Foundation.
Of the workers, 95.8 percent said they didn't have information whether their co-workers were infected or not. Only 1.8 percent of them mentioned that their family members were infected with the virus, says the study titled "Covid-19 Impact on Selected RMG factories and Way Forward".
None of the respondents visited doctors or got tested for Covid-19 while 85.7 percent of them suffered from fever and cold during the period. They doubted whether the symptoms were related to the novel coronavirus, it said.
The study is based on telephone interviews of 330 female and 100 male workers in 21 garment factories in Dhaka and Chattogram.
On wages and benefits, the study said 99.8 percent of the respondents received wages for March and April this year.
However, none of the respondents got full wage. And 91.48 percent of them said they did not get wages and allowances as per the labour law.
Besides, 80.4 percent workers said they received masks from the factories, and 95.3 percent said they were satisfied with the hand-washing facilities at workplaces.
MJF Programme Manager Shoma Datta shared the findings of the study, conducted between March and June this year, at a virtual meeting jointly organised by the MJF and The Daily Star.
Tanjim Ferdous, a national consultant of the United Nations in Bangladesh, moderated the meeting.
While presenting the findings, Shoma said 85.5 percent of the respondents said their factories resumed operation and 67.44 percent said they feel the threat of job loss.
About sexual harassment amid the pandemic, 31.8 percent of the female workers said they were subjected to sexual harassment at workplaces, while 47.6 percent said the supervisors used abusive language if they failed to meet the target. Of the victims, 32.9 percent lodged complaints and only 7.4 percent got remedy.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of the MJF, said the study does not give a complete picture of the entire garment sector, rather it gives a partial picture. The study was conducted on a limited scale.
"We want the sector to thrive, and at the same time we want improvement in the living standards of the workers," she noted.
Addressing the meeting, Planning Minister MA Mannan said the government has rolled out stimulus packages so that the garment sector remains unaffected by the pandemic.
"We want to work together with all the stakeholders..."
The minister also mentioned that Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics is conducting a study to know the socio-economic status of people, including the garment workers, amid the pandemic.
At the virtual meeting, Jasmin Shila, former operator at a garment factory, said she and her family have been going through a tough time since she and her husband lost their jobs.
She contacted some factories for a job but couldn't find one as all of those had sufficient manpower.
Nazma Akter, executive director of Awaj Foundation, said that when the owners started shutting factories in big numbers in late March, many workers lost jobs.
Later, many of those who still had jobs didn't return to their workplaces though international retailers and brands reinstated a significant number of work orders for local apparel manufacturers, she noted.
Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, said the importance of the garment sector is immense as more than four crore people are directly or indirectly involved in the sector which accounts for 84 percent of the country's annual exports.
Nazneen Ahmed, senior research fellow at Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, suggested creating a database of retrenched workers so that they can be given jobs in factories when normalcy returns in business activities.
Referring to the measures to protect workers from Covid-19, Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said those were not adequate to keep the workers safe from virus infections.
George Faller, chief technical adviser of the ILO's RMG Programme, said "Throughout, the ILO has been working with the government of Bangladesh in preparing several Covid-19 guidelines and training on workplace safety and health and labour relations."
Banasree Mitra Neogi, gender adviser to the MJF, said female workers must be protected through enforcement of legal measures at workplaces.
The survey found that the majority of the respondents reduced food intake, started depending on loans and felt job insecurity and mental pressure, added Banasree.
SM Shahed Hossain, human resources manager at the Chattogram-based Cliffton Textiles, said his factory was shut for one month between March and April this year because of the pandemic. But none of the workers was terminated.