Chaos in Bangladesh as thousands of clothes labourers turn up to work when factory owners decide to open during coronavirus lockdown – only for them to be sent home again amid backlash
- Workers arrived in Dhaka to collect pay and resume work after a 10-day break
- They found factories remained closed and were ordered back home
- Huge garment order cancellations from the West means there is little work
Thousands of Bangladeshi clothes labourers were ordered home after arriving at work to find their factories remained shut, despite owners asking them to come in during a coronavirus lockdown.
Staff arrived in Dhaka hoping to get paid for March and resume work after a 10-day break enforced by the government to tackle the spread of the coronavirus.
Although the government later extended the shutdown to April 14, workers said owners asked them to return by April 5.
Thousands of workers had walked from their villages following a shutdown of public transport to get to work. When they arrived they found factories remain closed and many had been laid off. Above, workers return to their village homes at the Shimulia ferry terminal in Mawa
Labour leaders said the majority of workers had been temporarily laid off or sent on leave. Some said they had permanently lost their jobs.
Khadiza Akter, vice president of the union Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, said: ‘When they reached the factories this morning, most of the workers were told that they were laid off or that the factory would resume after the shutdown.’
The Ministry of Labour and Employment in Bangladesh has asked garment factory owners not to sack workers and pay them full salaries for March
Bangladesh relies heavily on the garment industry for more than 80% of its exports, with around 4,000 factories employing four million people, most who are women.
It second-biggest supplier of clothes to Western countries, behind only China.
Thousands of employed had arrived at work only to find a government-enforced shut down of factories had been extended, meaning they were ordered back home
Two major industry bodies warned last week that Bangladesh was set to lose about $6 billion in export revenue this financial year amid cancellations from brands and retailers
Many top Western fashion brands manufacture clothing in Bangladesh but cancellations have been increasing daily amid coronavirus-driven lockdown.
Akter said thousands of workers had put their lives at risk due to ‘mismanagement’ in a bid to get back to work, ignoring advice over social distancing with police outside the factories telling them to return home.
She said: ‘They didn’t have to come back. They could have been told on the phone about the factory closures.’
Garment worker unions are calling on the government, buyers, or factory owners to pay workers who will struggle to feed themselves and their families with no income.
Babul Rahman is a garment worker who travelled more than 95 miles by auto-rickshaw and on foot to get to work because of the suspension of public transport.
Unions and human rights groups have asked major Western buyers to support Bangladesh’s garment workers financially
When he arrived, he was told he had been laid off.
He said: ‘The management asked me to come here on April 5 and now they are closed.
‘I had to spend thrice as much money to come to Dhaka because buses are closed due to the shut down.’
The global garment industry in Bangladesh is valued at more than $1 trillion and brings approximately $22 billion worth of revenue into the country
According to Bangladesh’s labour law, workers who have been laid off will be paid less than their usual earnings until the factories reopen.
Rahman added: ‘Everything is more expensive because of the coronavirus as it is, and now if my salary decreases, I don’t know how I will survive.’
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association has been forced to keep factories closed to prevent a further spread of coronavirus. There have been 13 deaths and 113 confirmed cases of the virus in Bangladesh
Bangladesh’s Ministry of Labour and Employment has asked garment factory owners not to sack workers and pay them full salaries for March by April 12.
Ministry spokesman Shib Nath Roy said: ‘We know that there have been some issues, but we are hopeful that the owners will accept our request.’
In Bangladesh there have so far been 113 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 13 deaths, according to John Hopkins University.
The Bangladeshi clothing industry is made up of around four million people, most of whom are women
Two major industry bodies warned last week that Bangladesh was set to lose about $6 billion in export revenue this financial year amid cancellations from brands and retailers.
Unions and human rights groups have asked major Western buyers to support Bangladesh’s garment workers financially.
Apoorva Kaiwar from the IndustriALL Global Union said: ‘We … are working with our affiliates to make this happen,’ when asked if brands were discussing packages for workers.
She added: ‘The brands are still having their internal discussions and we hope to hear about positive developments soon,’ she added.
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