No physical distancing at garment factories
No physical distancing at garment factoriesFile photo

As workers enter the Madina Board Mill factory in Purbo Chandra of Gazipur, their temperature is measured and they are sprayed with sanitiser. There are hand-washing facilities, too. But, a number of workers have complained, the health directives are flouted inside the factory where no social distancing is maintained.

One of the workers, Maruf Hossain, said many of them have to work together, crowded in a small space. That is why they cannot maintain social distancing.

Administrative officer of the establishment, Shafiqul Islam, speaking to Prothom Alo about these allegations, said that the workers have been instructed to maintain physical distancing within the factory. “We are following these rules too,” he added.

There are allegations from other factories all over the country, that the health rules are not being properly followed. These allegations are mostly from small and medium size mills and factories. The larger industrial units are maintaining the health protocol.

The Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) is responsible for monitoring whether the factories are following the health regulations or not. The industrial police are also responsible to look into matters related to the industries.

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Readymade garment factories and other factories started opening up all over the country since 26 April, but DIFE and the industrial police are only partially carrying out their duties. In the meantime, the risk of coronavirus is increasing among the workers.

The industrial police have said there are 7602 industrial units in Savar-Ashulia, Gazipur, Narayanganj, Chattogram, Mymensingh and Khulna. On Thursday, 2,592 were operating. These included 1,269 members of BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association), 369 members of BKMEA (Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association), and 183 members of BTMA (Bangladesh Textile Mills Association). Other than that, 304 of the 364 factories under BEPZA (Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority)’s Export Processing Zone (EPZ) were open. Also, 1,367 of 3,866 other factories were in production.

Head of Garment Sramik Sanghati, Taslima Akhter, said that the decision to open up the factories should be reconsidered.

Police superintendent of the industrial police headquarters, Mohammad Amjad Hossain, told Prothom Alo that that it is easier for industries other than the readymade garment industry to maintain the health rules as these had fewer workers. They said, even so, it hadn’t been possible to ensure social distancing completely.

The small and medium sized factories were not following the rules properly and the workers of these units were at risk. And this risk factor was also obstructing the DIFE inspectors from carrying out supervision at the field level.

Labour leader Salauddin Swapan, speaking to Prothom Alo, said that despite a lot of supervision, health regulations were not being fully maintained even in the garment industry, so there was hardly scope for others to do any better.

In the meantime, many garment factory workers have been infected by coronavirus. According to the garment industry workers’ welfare organisation, Garment Sramik Sanghati, till Thursday 96 workers and 1 officer of the garment industry has contracted coronavirus. And 52 per cent of them were affected after the factories opened on 26 April. Head of Garment Sramik Sanghati, Taslima Akhter, said that the decision to open up the factories should be reconsidered.

Meanwhile, Prothom Alo’s Narayanganj correspondent has reported that other than the garment factories, 155 factories were running in Narayanganj. These included cement, pharmaceutical, metal rod, food, electronic, melamine and other factories. Hand-washing facilities have been installed for the workers and they have been told to wear masks. In some factories the workers are sprayed with sanitisers. But in most factories, social distancing is not being maintained. Several workers complained that they were not even provided with masks.

Prothom Alo’s Gazipur correspondent has said that there are 1,227 factories operating in Gazipur now. While there are facilities to check the workers’ temperature, ensure they wear masks and wash their hands, social distancing is not being maintained in most of the factories.

Gazipur industrial police additional police superintendent, Sushanta Sarkar said that many factories have taken initiative, but the health protocol is not being fully followed. But, he added, the district administration was monitoring the factories.

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