Many garment owners want to run production in their factories despite recommendations of closure from trade bodies concerned amid coronavirus outbreak, industry insiders said.
But others seek closures in view of the latest situation as part of stopping the virus spread to the labour-intensive sector that employs more than 4.0 million workers.
Some garment factories have already closed in line with the government's decision until April 04, they added.
But the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) in a circular on Friday said "Export-oriented factories that have work orders and are engaged in emergency manufacturing of personal protective equipment, mask, hand wash/sanitiser, medicine to prevent corona virus, if needed, can run their units provided with ensuring adequate health safety of workers."
Labour leaders, however, were opposed to keeping factories open amid the COVID-19 pandemic and demanded immediate closure of the remaining units with paid leave. Citing media reports over closure, the DIFE in the circular said many factory authorities have become confused about the running of their units.
Even the prime minister's March 25 speech, which announced the Tk 50-billion virus fund and called for ensuring health safety, did not give any instruction about industrial units' closure.
The DIFE said the mentioned factories can operate by strictly abiding by the health instructions by health ministry and other concerned authorities.
But it is mandatory for factory owners to check workers' body temperature by thermal scanner and arrange quarantine and other required treatments in case of any symptoms of viral infection.
The Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) on Friday instructed its member factories to keep their units closed until April 04.
On Thursday, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) suggested that its member factories keep their units closed until April 04. The BGMEA in a statement on Friday added correction to its Thursday's decision and referred to the DIFE's circular.
"Factories, if they decide to keep it open, will have to ensure maximum safety and hygiene for their workers and will have to keep them open and take responsibility of their workers," said BGMEA president Dr Rubana Huq.
Trade bodies made the instructions two days after the government had announced Tk 50 billion in virus fund to be used only to pay wages and allowances in export-oriented industries.
Citing the government's fund and facilities by the central bank, the BKMEA on Friday said, "The industry will survive with the survival of workers and the country will grow accordingly."
"Our prime target is to protect our country and people from the negative impact of corona virus that has already affected the world severely," BKMEA president AKM Salim Osman said.
In such a situation, no workers should be affected, he said, asking all its member factories to remain closed until April 04 in line with the government's decision.
The government declared closed all public and private offices from March 26 to April 04 to prevent the COVID-19 spread.
The BKMEA also instructed its members to aware the workers and ensure so that they stay at their present living places.
On March 25, it urged members to keep the factories having work orders open with adequate safety measures.
When asked, Nazma Akter, president of Sammilita Garments Sramik Federation, said "All factories must be kept closed until April 04."
When all have been asked to remain at home, it is discrimination with workers to go for work at factories, she said. Ms Akter claimed that many factories are willing to close factories but due to absence of clear guidelines from BGMEA, they are confused what they should do.
Labour unrest might take place if factories remain open on Saturday, she feared.
Industrial Police sources said a few companies spoke about running their operations for timely shipment.
They, however, said they have to wait until Saturday to understand the situation as Thursday and Friday were national and weekly holidays respectively.
According to the BGMEA, some 969 factories reported $2.68 billion worth of export orders were cancelled and held up by global buyers until Friday.
Besides, some 38 garment owners shut their units due to coronavirus pandemic, it said. Most of them announced lay-offs at their units according to provisions 12 and 16 under the labour law.
Workers will get half of their basic payment and house rent during the period, according to the law.
A Chattogram-based factory owner closed his unit immediately after the PM's speech that did not give any instruction about factory closure. "I feel it's my responsibility to ensure safety and protect workers first," the man said, adding that his factory will remain closed until April 04.
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