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RMG workers in disarray as factories cut jobs, fail to pay wages

  • Published at 08:40 pm April 20th, 2020
rmg workers protest badda
File Photo: Readymade garment factory workers demonstrate, demanding due wages and allowances, at Badda, Dhaka on Wednesday, April 15, 2020 Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Over a million workers out of work

Last Tuesday spelled doom for Mohammad Liaquat Ali, a middle aged man who was dreaming of providing a better life for his family by working at a readymade garments factory in Bangladesh.

Out of the blue, the line supervisor of Rose Fashion Limited where he was employed, called him in the morning and asked for his resignation amid the Covid-19 outbreak after paying his salary for the month.

 “I used to earn a small amount of money and everything including my rent, feeding my family and other necessities was managed from the salary. What will I do now?,” said Liaquat, who used to work as a quality inspector at the factory in Manipur under Gazipur Sadar upazila.

“I cannot even ask for relief allocated for RMG workers because they took back my company ID card,” he added, visibly frustrated.

Because of the Covid-19 crisis, all major industries have been halted in Bangladesh since March 26 , the day the government called a shutdown. Most major buyers have either canceled or suspended their orders.

“I do not know when I will get a new job,” said Liaquat.

Like Liaquat, thousands of readymade garment workers have no income now. The coronavirus pandemic has put four million workers and their families between a rock and a very hard place, according to a rapid survey conducted by BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, and Bangladesh Health Watch.

Most of the workers face unemployment and income loss because of factory closures, the survey said.

The survey estimated that at least 47% of RMG workers are now without any income, based on responses from 159 workers (51% male and 49% female). The survey was conducted from April3-15.

About 24% of the workers are on leave with full pay, and another 11% are on leave with partial pay, according to the respondents.

Around 78% of the respondents reported that they have reduced their fish and meat consumption because of the crisis, and 59% said they cannot stock food as they do not have adequate funds.

Dark future ahead

In conversation with Dhaka Tribune, Liaquat's co-worker Jewel, said they may face starvation and family members may have to die if the shutdown extends for much longer.

Jewel supports a family of six and was also released from his job.

Many workers like Liaquat and Jewel are attending protests against job cuts and demanding overdue salaries.

420 workers are still unpaid at Unitex Cottonware Pvt Ltd.

Jahanara Akhter who works at the factory, said they are working for food like day labourers. “If we remain unpaid even after hard work, how will we survive?” she said.

On Sunday, Paradise Cable Limited worker Nazmunnahar participated in a movement to block a road in Narayanganj.

When asked why she was ignoring the government enforced shutdown and attending protests, she said hunger did not allow her to be careful about Covid-19.

“If we had food from the government, we could have obeyed everything. We need to live,” she said.

She said factory owners were not paying salaries despite government directives.

“We did not get our salary and now everything is closed. We cannot do anything. How will we survive?” said Abdullah, a co-worker of Nazmunnahar.

The researchers recommend immediate cash and food support for RMG workers.

Shamima Rita from Narayanganj and Raihanul Islam Akhand from Gazipur contributed to this report.