Abdul Alim: The coronavirus, which has caused damage around the world, is also on the rise in Bangladesh. It has almost been a pandemic in the country. The entire country is at a standstill in the lockdown to deal with the crisis. This is having an impact on people’s lives. The biggest catastrophe has come down to the ready-made garment industry, the main driving force of Bangladesh’s economy. Billions of dollars worth of orders have been canceled already. There is a work order but still suspension is there for doing those things. Most of the factories have been shut down in line with the general holiday declared by the government to deal with corona.
Because of the step by step or inconsistency in the factory closure, the workers got frightened lest they lose their job. Although there is an obligation in the law to pay the salary within seven working days, it was finally rolled out till April 16. Under the direction of the government, all the factories have been asked to pay the March salary by April 16. But about 40% of the factory wages have not been paid so far. We are getting the news of workers unrest regularly. Just as the workers have failed to provide enough food to their families as they did not get paid on time, they are also scared about their coming days. The news of layoffs in several factories has hurt us despite having banned on such by the government and calls from owner associations. Such behavior of the employers exploiting workers during this impending catastrophe in Corona is tragic and unexpected.
Earlier the government announced an incentive of Tk 5,000 crore for RMG industry to deal with the crisis and pay the wage and allowances to the workers for next 3 months. But there is also a lack of coordination. Although there are guidelines for paying the salaries to the workers from this incentive, nothing it stated for the officers of staffs. As a result, thousands of HR, Admin, Compliance and other officials working in this sector are frightened. They are not sure whether their salary will be paid on time or not. Thousands of officials are in fear of losing their jobs.
Many factories have declared layoffs, though the leave has been declared by some of them in accordance with public holidays. But in a recent letter to the Department of Factory and Establishment Inspection, BGMEA sought clear guidelines for bringing all factories under the layoff declaration. As a result, it is assumed that all factories are going to close under layoff which will exclude workers who have been employed for less than a year. They will not receive salary-allowance at the time of layoff. It is estimated that as a result of it, more than one million workers will be out of wages. These workers will live an inhumane life with their families if they do not get salary & allowance during the layoff period.
The state will have to take responsibility for the terrible crisis that has befallen onto the lives of these workers due to the decision of the owners to take shelter under the law. In such a situation, the government’s assistance package for marginalized people should ensure special allocation for the affected workers in the garment sector. Explaining the law, pushing, abusing, blaming, whatever it is, will not help the aggrieved workers.
They are garment workers, but they are also citizens of this country at the same time. They don’t live where they are voters and where they live, they are not voters. So it goes without saying that their names are not likely to appear in any list of government provided assistance.
Those who have less than one year of service, under the law, they will get nothing during this timeframe. Some will cooperate to help workers for humanitarian reasons. Those who do not get, their hunger will not obey the law. They work in factories, but they are also marginal. Their number is not small. About 25-30 percent of the workers are expected to come into this category. Their list is very easy to find. It is possible to get their list from each factory. So if organizations including BGMEA and BKMEA come forward with specific proposals from this huge budget, new workers, marginal workers and people in this sudden crisis may see a glimmer of hope, may survive.
In addition, employers who have taken or will take responsibility for workers who are out of wages even at the time of layoff may be subsequently brought under special incentives afterwards. It is now a humanitarian demand for owners to be worker friendly.
The bottom line is that we have left the responsibility of garment workers to the owners. But if the owners do not take responsibility for them, the state will have to. They are not only workers, but also the people of this country. They are also low income people. If the law cannot protect them, the state must bring them under special protection. They have the right to the package announced by the government.
Workers must be protected in order to skip a catastrophic footage in such a global crisis caused be coronavirus. The state, employers and workers must work together to get through this crisis. Also, it has to take over responsibility of the workers being pushed towards an uncertain future.
Once the owners-workers-officers-employees all live together, the industry will survive, the state will survive. Let’s face the crisis together, let’s live together.
Writer: Editor, The RMG Times; Email: [email protected]