Stung by criticism, BGMEA urges owners to shut factories. It’s too late

  • Faysal Atik and Obaidur Masum, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-04-04 22:45:25 BdST

Garment exporters’ lobbying group BGMEA has urged its members to keep their factories closed through the nationwide shutdown over a coronavirus outbreak to April 11.

Rubana Huq, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, made the call in an audio statement on Saturday night amid growing criticism against the BGMEA for going soft on errant factory owners who kept the plants open.

Rubana’s plea came hours after hundreds of workers headed back to Dhaka from different districts to join work sparking fears of contagion.

The government ordered shutdown of all offices and workplaces for 10 days to stem the spread of the virus from Mar 26. It later extended the shutdown, which includes the transport system, until Apr 11.

File photo

File photo

The garment factories that have orders to deliver can remain open but the owners must ensure protection of the workers from the virus, the government said.

BGMEA and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association also asked the owners to consider the government’s call for temporary closure of the factories.

The government also rolled out a Tk 50 billion bailout package for payment of exporting sector worker wages.

But many workers, who had returned home before the shutdown, started for their factories in Dhaka and other places mostly on foot with the transport services halted on hearing that the plants were reopening.

CRITICISM

Housebound netizens took to social media to vent anger on factory owners who decided to keep their plants open despite the risk of contagion.

“The garment factory owners have played a game to blackmail the government who had only played a role of a viewer while the entire Bangladesh has been put at risk. Does BGMEA think they will survive if the country is at risk?” Saikat Bhowmik wrote on Facebook.

 

“The readymade garment factories are reopening when people are being caned into their homes. Many factories have started working today. How surprising!” Mazharul Emon wrote in another post.

Rubana told the reporters: “I am sincerely requesting the owners of all factories to keep the factories shut until April 11 considering the overall situation.

“I would also like to reassure our workers that they will get the salary for the month of March. They don’t need to worry about that. I request all the sides not to fire any worker for staying away from work,” she said.

Workers read a notice outside their garment factory in Gazipur’s Tongi as it is opening on Sunday amid the nationwide shutdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

When the reporters asked her about the workers walking over 100 kilometres to join their workplaces in order to save their jobs, she said the issue was not under her authority.

“I had made the request even though the BGMEA has no authority to keep factories open or shut,” she said.  

“I have never subjected my workers to torture or injustice. Please don’t pass the responsibility on to me,” the BGMEA chief said. “Now it’s the question of our survival. Please don’t create any dispute.”     

Rubana also expressed doubt whether all the people returning to Dhaka were garment workers. “Most of the workers live near the factories.”

THE RISK

With the latest decision in place, workers may head back home en masse, impeding the government’s efforts to limit the spread of the virus.

Dr Mushtuq Husain, former chief scientific officer of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, said the industry owners need to take steps to prevent these workers from leaving Dhaka.

He referred to the danger which had occurred when the workers had headed home after the announcement of the shutdown. “If these workers go to villages and return, the risk of infection would be much more.”

“If they stay in Dhaka, BGMEA has to manage them. If they can live in Dhaka, they won’t return home,” he added, demanding that the owners compensate for the decision they had taken earlier.

Public health specialist Dr Taufique Joarder said BGMEA’s actions reflect incoordination.

Pandemic is a health issue. People in the sector must be consulted before taking decisions. BGMEA should have been aware of that,” he said.

If a worker gets infected, the virus will spread to others through their daily movement, Joarder said.

“So the BGMEA must compensate if the workers stay here.”