RMG workers are seen in front of a factory in Savar
RMG workers are seen in front of a factory in SavarFile photo

Mills and factories will remain open during the seven-day strict lockdown declared by the government to keep the spread of coronavirus under control. However, health and hygiene protocol must be maintained in these industrial units. The factory authorities must also provide the workers with transport facilities.

The ministry of labour has formed 23 special crisis management committees to monitor the factories that will remain open during the lockdown, in order to ensure that these are adhering to the health and hygiene guidelines. The industrial police and local administration will assist the committees.

The two apex organisations of readymade garment industry owners, BGMEA and BKMEA, will also monitor whether the health rules are being followed in the readymade garment factories. Leaders of these two associations have said that stern action will be taken this time against any factory where the health protocol is not being followed. If necessary, the factory will be shut down too.

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The cabinet division has enforced an ‘all-out lockdown’ and strict restrictions from 14 to 21 April in order to bring the spread of coronavirus under control. However, after the meeting chaired by the cabinet secretary on Sunday, the readymade garment industry owners announced that the mills and factories would remain open during the lockdown.

Labour secretary KM Abdus Sobhan told Prothom Alo, “With the help of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), we have drawn up health and hygiene guidelines for the workplace. BGMEA and BKMEA have also drawn up a separate protocol. This details what is to be down within the factory as well as what to do after returning home. The health directorate also has separate guidelines. All these must be followed.”

There are many other factories around the readymade garment industries. If the hygiene rules of these factories cannot be ensured, then the garment workers will not be safe either. The health protocol must be enforced at these factories too. Just having 23 crisis management committees will not be enough.
Khandakar Golam Moazzem, research director, Centre for Policy Dialogue

Abdus Salam went on to say, “23 crisis management committees have been formed to check whether the hygiene rules have been followed. If the health rules are not followed, action will be taken against the concerned factories in accordance to the labour laws.”

Initially the government had planned to keep all factories closed during the lockdown. However, the industry owners objected. BGMEA and BKMEA leaders began negotiating at a high level within the government. They reasoned that if the factories were shut down, they would not receive work orders, they would not be able to meet the deadline of the existing work orders and also, the workers would rush homewards, spreading the virus further. Finally a decision was taken to keep the industrial units open.

Factories had remained closed for about a month during the first wave of coronavirus. Then towards the end of April last year, during the general holiday, the readymade garment factories were reopened, with hygiene protocols in place. However, the health rules were followed only initially and later things became lax. Initially there had been monitoring, but that too was gradually dropped. The government then issued a circular, following which BGMEA and BKMEA provided their members with separate guidelines.

The BGMEA guidelines said that the workers would be given separate timing to arrive and leave the workplace in order to avoid crowding, buses were to be arranged for workers living at a distance and workers contracting Covid would be treated at hospitals near the factory.

BGMEA vice president Arshad Zaman on Monday said, “We have a board meeting today (Monday). It was decided to be stern in enforcing the hygiene guidelines.” He also said, “If any factory displays irresponsibility, we will shut that down. A mobile team has been formed again to monitor the matter.”

BKMEA vice president Mohammad Hatem said, “We will monitor whether the factories are following the hygiene protocol of not. We will close down any factory that does not follow the health guidelines.”

In the meantime, the crisis management committee held a meeting about managing the labour issue virtually. The meeting was presided over by state minister for labour Begum Monnujan Sufian. Speaking at the meeting, representatives of the industry owners highlighted the steps taken to protect the health of the workers. The labour leaders, on the other hand, called for transportation for the workers, shift rotation at the workplaces, ensuring physical distancing and financial assistance for the transport workers.

Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) research director Khandakar Golam Moazzem told Prothom Alo, there are many other mills and factories around the readymade garment industries. If the hygiene rules of these factories cannot be ensured, then the garment workers will not be safe either. So the health protocol must be enforced at these factories too. Just having 23 crisis management committees will not be enough. The number of committees and members must be increased.

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