Leaders of the apparel sector trade-bodies, after a meeting on Monday, decided to keep ready-made garment (RMG) factories closed until April 14 in line with the public holiday, following much criticism from different quarters over the issue.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) also requested their members to pay workers' monthly wages and other allowances by April 16.
When asked, BGMEA president Dr Rubana Huq said BGMEA and BKMEA have decided to keep all factories closed until April 14 in line with the government shutdown.
However, factories making personal protective equipments (PPE) and having urgent order shipments can continue operations (during the period) after complying with full health and safety requirements and informing their respective associations, she added.
Banks' AD branches will operate for special hours, as requested by the associations, she also said, calling on all factories to pay workers' salary by April 16.
The joint declaration of BGMEA and BKMEA came after thousands of workers from different parts of the country were forced to return to Dhaka before Sunday, enduring immense predicaments while the country is on near lockdown with restrictions on transportation.
A good number of workers went to their respective workplaces on Sunday, and found extension of closure notice without any specific date for payment of monthly wage and other allowances, said RMG leaders and workers.
Analysts and rights groups attributed garment lobby groups' indecision over factory closure, wage payment, division among apparel makers over closure, and the government's discriminatory health safety standards for the plight of labourers on Saturday, deepening fear about the spread of coronavirus epidemic.
On the other hand, a total of 846 factories under the jurisdiction of Industrial Police in six belts, except Dhaka metropolitan area, remained open on the day, defying the call to stay at home and help reduce virus transmission, according to official data.
Labour leaders, terming keeping factories open 'an injustice and inhuman act', strongly demanded immediate closure of all RMG units.
They also demanded making payment of wages and other allowances shortly without terminating any worker.
Nazma Akter, president of Sommilito Garments Sromik Federation, alleged that the workers are still in uncertainty over payment of monthly wages, as there is no clear declaration when the payment will be made.
She also said the coronavirus outbreak situation in the country is gradually deteriorating with identifying more cases. RMG, being a labour-intensive industry, is highly risky for coronavirus infection.
She called on the owners to change their mindset towards the workers.
There will be no manpower in the country, if the workers get infected due to keeping factories open, she added.
Amirul Haque Amin, president of National Garments Workers Federation, alleged that although some factories paid monthly wages, many of them deducted wages for four to five days due to closure.
Both the leaders claimed that workers are being terminated amid the outbreak.
Meantime, Bangladesh Employers' Federation (BEF) urged all its member factories to find out ways of reducing factory expenditure instead of workers' termination.
BEF also requested owners and workers to maintain good relation to ensure decent environment in workplaces amid the coronavirus outbreak.
It urged owners and workers to work jointly and mitigate differences, if any, through bilateral discussion after overcoming the current situation.
Citing media reports, BEF president Kamran T Rahman, in a statement on Monday, said some factory owners are considering termination of workers as part of their expenditure reduction strategy.
"Our sincere request to all members is to find out and consider other possible ways to lessen expenditure and consider termination as the last tool of the cost-cutting policy."
He requested all to follow labour laws duly, if anyone has to take the measure of terminating workers as a tool of cost cutting.
Hailing the government's stimulus package to overcome the possible economic shock of the COVID-19 outbreak, he said the government is working to ensure health safety and reduce possible economic loss.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, export orders worth more than US$ 2.85 billion have been cancelled until March 31.
Mr Rahman also said many factory owners, taking the health risk into consideration, closed their respective units in line with the public holiday that hampered production activities.
"Manufacturers are also in trouble due to the ongoing situation. As a result, they are looking for measures to reduce their expenditure to sustain."
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