Garment workers return to work amid covid-19 lockdown in Bangladesh

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Workers are back in work as at least 2000 factories reopened in Bangladesh and that triggering fears about fatal consequences as the country records a rise in Covid-19 cases.

The factories were allowed to reopen nearly a month after Bangladesh enforced a countrywide shutdown after a presumed consensus between the government and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the main trade body. The government has created stimulus packages worth millions of dollars for export-oriented industries including the garment sector.

Of the factories that reopened till now there are 718 BGMEA, 157 BKMEA, 72 Bangladesh Textile Mills Association members, and 206 are under Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority. Besides, there are 667 other garment factories that reopened recently.

At least 387 factories reopened in Dhaka, Savar and Ashulia, 527 in Gazipur, 519 in Chattogram, 225 in Narayanganj, 78 in Mymensingh and 84 in Khulna.

The country is expected to lose export revenue of about $6bn this fiscal year as the sector has been hit by cancellations from some of the world’s largest brands and retailers due to Covid-19.

However, experts and union leaders expressed concerns.

“We have to accept coronavirus as part of life. If we don’t open factories, there will be economic crisis,” said Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association vice president Mohammad Hatem.

Factories were “under pressure” from brands to meet export deadlines and feared the risk that billions in orders could be diverted to competing operations in countries like Vietnam or China, Hatem added.

“Factory owners say the industry cannot survive if factories remain closed and foreign buyers move away as some competing countries have withdrawn coronavirus lockdowns. Workers have no choice — they must return to work to save jobs and earn money to survive with their families,” Babul Akhter, president of Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, told to local media reporters.

It is impossible to maintain safety and social distancing in factories, especially in sewing sections, leaving workers vulnerable to infection, he noted.

“Owners care more about business and not about the lives of workers. This is a life-and-death situation for workers, and there is no one but Allah to save poor workers,” Ratna Akter union leader said.

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