RMG workers feel the lockdown pinch

The enforcement of another series of lockdowns has created a sense of déjà vu among the garment workers while they are still trying to recover from the after-effects of last year’s lockdown. 

The workers are passing their days with uncertainty due to the crises that have been brought by the pandemic including the fear of being laid off.  

Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) in collaboration with SANEM, a non-profit research organization, has been conducting a series of surveys under a project titled "Garment Worker Diaries" to analyze how the lives of garment workers in Bangladesh are being affected by the ongoing pandemic and how they are coping with it. 

According to their findings, in March 2021 the rate of employment for garment workers in Bangladesh was 87 percent (86pc for women and 91pc for men) while 82 percent of garment workers received their salary. 

The employment and earnings increased comparatively in March but it is anticipated that the situation could change quickly given the current situation. 

Amirul Haque Amin, President of the National Garment Workers Federation, when asked about the possibility of workers being laid off, told Bangladesh Post that such a possibility cannot be denied. 

He said that the factory owners do not consider the workers as a part of the industry. They are only concerned about their profit; they don’t care about the wellbeing of the workers. 

“We would not be surprised to witness similar incidents again this year that took place last year as well. We have already taken our position on this from the trade union. If the workers experience any wage cut this year or if they do not get their Eid bonus on time, we will go for larger movement against it with the workers.”   

Regarding the transport crisis faced by workers, he said, “The factory owners commit things readily but they don’t implement the pledges accordingly.”

“After taking the decisions of keeping garment factories open, the government should have monitored if the directives were being followed,” he added.  

The workers were gradually trying to get back to the pre-pandemic state of employment even by working at a lower pay but the new lockdown has put them in distress again ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr. They are worried about what this year has in store for them; whether they will receive their monthly wages and bonus or this year would be a repetition of last year. 

This year the government has decided to keep the garment factories open during the lockdown. According to the government's lockdown directive the factories have to operate maintaining strict health safety guidelines and provide transportation services to pick up and drop off workers.

Although health protocols are being maintained in factories, most of the garments have failed to provide the workers with adequate transportation facilities.  

About 317 factories were shut down during the first wave of coronavirus last year as a result of which about 70,000 workers were laid off initially, according to BGMEA. However, the union leaders claimed that more than two lakh RMG workers lost their jobs last year taking the heat of the harsh reality. 

Many of them had change their profession, some sent their families to their village to reduce expenses, while some of them had to leave the city permanently being destitute as they could not find any way to stay afloat.