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Bangladesh garment workers suffer as factories reopen during Covid-19 lockdown

3 August, 2021On 1 August, Bangladeshi garment export factories resumed operations with just two days’ notice, despite the strict lockdown imposed across the country.

With a lack of transportation, workers returning to work after Eid holidays faced immense hardships and Covid infection risk.

Workers were forced to hurry back to work using whatever transport they could find

On Friday 30 July, government officials issued a notice allowing garment export factories to resume operations on 1 August, following constant pressure from garment manufacturers and exporters to allow factories to function. The sudden announcement created panic among workers as the majority had left Dhaka and returned to their villages and small towns for Eid holidays and subsequent lockdown.

Workers were forced to hurry back to work using whatever transport they could find

The government announced resumption of transport services only on the evening on 31 July.  By this time, garment workers had already embarked upon a difficult return journey to report to work, fearing job loss and the non-payment of wages. Ferries, trucks and goods transporters which were only operating for emergency services transported thousands of garment workers in overcrowded and dangerous travel conditions. News outlets reported that around 90 percent of garment workers reported to work. However, garment workers continue to suffer with lack of access to transport services and are paying more than the normal price for their commute to work.

On 2 August, 15,989 new Covid cases were reported in a country with 150,407 active cases. The pandemic situation continues to be a cause for  concern in Bangladesh, and the country’s directorate general of health services recommended the extension of the lockdown across the country. Strict movement restrictions are still in place across the country.

Salauddin Shapon, senior vice president of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council said,

“We are disappointed that hundreds and thousands of workers were forced to return to work in unsafe travel conditions. The government and employers should ensure strict safety measures and health guidelines are adopted the workplaces to safeguard from the infections.

"In the current circumstances, no worker should be laid off for not reporting to work. All workers should be paid their wages for the lockdown period. We will continue to raise our demand for Covid risk allowances for garment workers.”

Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL South Asia regional secretary said,

“It is not acceptable that garment workers are forced to take such risks in order to meet business targets. Opening factories during the lockdown and asking workers to report for work when all transport was suspended is inhumane.

"The government of Bangladesh and employers should ensure that workers don’t face wage losses if they haven’t been able to report for work in the middle of the pandemic. Factories should continue to follow all preventive and protective measures. Global brands should ensure that their suppliers do not undermine workers right to occupational health and safety and workers should not be forced to work in unsafe working conditions.”