The Financial Express

Factory owners want to continue operations, labour leaders favour closure

| Updated: April 11, 2021 13:44:02

Factory owners want to continue operations, labour leaders favour closure

Country's textile and clothing units have sought to continue operation during the upcoming weeklong lockdown while complying with the health-safety guideline.

The lockdown is set to start from April 14 next.

In the event of shutdown of factories, the workers would leave their present dwellings and move to their village homes only to expose them to a high risk of infection, the leaders of the textile and clothing sector argued.

Factories would also incur huge financial losses as they would fail to make timely shipments of existing work orders that might result in order cancellation, discount, deferred payment and shipment.

The garment leaders have thus expressed fear of possible labour unrest and deterioration in law and order ahead of Eid-ul-fitr.

Labour leaders, however, demanded no wage cuts and suspension of production during lockdown for safety of workers.

On Friday, state minister for public administration Farhad Hossain said during the upcoming seven-day total lockdown, works in all offices, factories, shops and transport services, except emergencies, would remain suspended.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) and Bangladesh Textile Mills Operation (BTMA) would jointly sit today (Sunday) to discuss the issue of keeping their factories operational.

The meeting will be followed by a joint press conference.

BGMEA president-elect Faruque Hassan told the FE that there is a risk of spreading infection if the factories remained shut for a week or more as workers will go to their villages.

"Only 0.03-per cent workers were infected during the pandemic and we've workforce aged between 18 and 30," he said, adding that the industry has gathered experience in the last one year to operate factories by maintaining health-safety guideline properly.

Even there are issues of paying timely wage and festival allowance, Mr Hassan said.

If factories keep shut, he explained, they would fail to make timely shipments and thus might face cancellation of work orders and shipments, deferred shipment and payment.

"This might result in the closure of a number of factories," he noted, adding that there might be agitation over wage payment ahead of Eid and deterioration in law and order.

Echoing Mr Hassan, BTMA president Mohammad Ali Khokon said they are not against complete lockdown.

"But we want to keep mills running," he said, claiming that they have been able to run factories through proper safety management till now.

He said they have work orders worth $2.0 billion in the export-oriented textile mills and that garment units would not receive the products if factories are closed.

Local industry is also just started to recover, he said, seeking permit for factories to run by maintaining health and safety measures strictly.

BKMEA director Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, however, said individual factories should be allowed to make their own decision.

"If they (factories) can maintain safety strictly, they can operate. If they can't do so, they should go for closure," he noted.

When asked, labour secretary KM Abdus Salam said the ministry would take required measures in line with the government's decision after Sunday's meeting.

Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation president Babul Akter said factory operations must be shut during lockdown considering high rates of infection and fatality and safety of workers.

It is uncertain as to whether factories would be laid off or closed or asked to enjoy public holiday, he said. "What will happen regarding workers' wages?"

The garment sector received stimulus package from the government during last year's lockdown and they can seek more support, he said.

But no worker's wage should be deducted and workers would not accept wage cuts this time, he asserted.

When asked, Centre for Policy Dialogue additional research director Khondaker Golam Moazzem said the government must prioritise the move that helps contain the spike in Covid-19 infections and fatalities.

Considering this, factories should run on a limited scale by ensuring health-safety measures, he said.

More manpower could be engaged to strictly monitor the implementation of the guideline, Mr Moazzem added.

In that case, the government can deploy army along with industrial police and border guards with powers to fine and shut factories for violating safety measures.

Mr Moazzem, however, said limited operation of factories could be allowed if infection be reduced or controlled by ensuring mandatory use of masks, staggered entry and exit of workers in factories.

He suggested that factories take responsibility of workers, including leave with wages, saying that the proposed lockdown is for one or two weeks only.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Garment Sramik Sanghati in a statement said the government's decision to impose a week-long complete lockdown and closure of factories are crucial to save workers' lives.

Expressing concern over workers' livelihood and wage payment, it said workers suffered a lot during the last lockdown as over 0.3-million workers were terminated, 35-per cent monthly wages deducted and many factories laid off.

"We don't want a repetition of such acts," the statement said, demanding that full wages and other facilities like testing and health services be ensured.

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