Indecision on Running RMG Units: Uncertainty over workers’ Eid trips
Nizam Uddin, a sewing machine operator at a garment factory in Ashulia, cannot decide whether to go to his village in Mymensingh to celebrate Eid-ul-Azha with his family.
The reason for his indecision is that he is unsure how long his Eid leave would be. Would it be for three days or 17 days?
Like him, thousands of garment workers are left in a state of suspense on whether the government would allow factories to run as normal during the fortnight-long lockdown starting July 23.
As things stand, factories would be shut during the lockdown, supposed to be the strictest yet amid the pandemic that began in March last year.
But garment and textile factory owners have been lobbying with the government since Wednesday to keep their plants out of the purview of the lockdown. In case that cannot be managed, they are also lobbying to resume production at their factories from August 1 instead of August 5, when the lockdown ends.
If they get their way, the workers would then have to report to duty on July 23, two days after Eid and on the day the lockdown sets off. They would then have to start from their villages on July 22, the day following Eid.
In short, it would be too short a trip for it to be worthwhile.
If the workers have to report to duty on August 1, which is in the middle of the strict lockdown, they would have a problem getting to Dhaka from their villages in the absence of any public transport.
Fearing an unkind situation like they had faced last year, when they had to walk tens of kilometres on foot in the absence of public transport for a movement control order to make it to their factories, many are staying put in Dhaka this Eid.
Nearly 30 percent of the garment workers will not go to their villages this time because of such confusing information regarding the lockdown and factory operations, said Towhidur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation, a garment workers' platform.
"A clear and specific directive is needed to remove the confusion on such an important issue," Rahman said.
The workers will face a lot of trouble in going to their villages and coming back since all kinds of vehicles including buses, trains and launches will not ply during the lockdown, said Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation.
So, there should be an easing of lockdown rules for smooth transportation of workers if the factories are kept open, Akter said.
Transport is a major concern for workers, said Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation.
If they do not find any transport, many workers will set off by foot from their villages to save their jobs, as they did last year, Amin said.
"Unfortunately, many workers had walked even 50 kilometres last year because of such confusing information on factory reopening."
Those who did not want to put their body through the ordeal paid double or triple the fare for whatever transport they got to return to their workplaces, Amin added.
"We do not know when the direction from the government will come," said Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Both decisions can be finalised at the end of the negotiations with the government.
"We are expecting the government will relax the lockdown but at the final stage, the government might not consider our application. So, nothing is clear yet," Hassan told The Daily Star over the phone.
However, the majority of the workers might not leave their workplaces for three reasons: transportation problems, fear of infection of the coronavirus that has spread to the hinterlands, and vaccination.
Mass vaccination for garment workers started from yesterday in two factories at Gazipur, Hassan said, adding that more than 12,000 workers have gotten the jab.
All the member factories have been asked to vaccinate the garment workers as soon as possible to keep the workers safe from infection, he said.