Keeping jobs more important than worrying about Covid-19, say workers
Daulatdia, Shimulia and Banglabazar ferry terminals were teeming with Dhaka-bound passengers on Saturday with garment workers rushing to reach their workplaces with factories set to reopen on Sunday.
The number of Dhaka-bound passengers crowding Daulatdia ferry ghat has been on the rise since early Saturday, most of the passengers being garment workers or involved in the RMG sector.
Ambulances and goods-laden trucks were struggling to board ferries at the terminal due to the rush of passengers, who were negligent about adhering to hygiene rules.
Passengers from different southern districts were seen flocking to the terminal by microbuses, cars, motorcycles and auto-rickshaws.
Many complained that they had to pay fares several times the usual amount.
The government has relaxed the lockdown for a day on Sunday for easing travel for the workers across the country through inland water transports and public transports.
“Passenger carriers can move until Sunday 12pm from now,” said a Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) press release issued on Saturday night.
Usually, Dhaka bound launches leave southern districts before 8pm.
Besides, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Faruque Hassan told media that long-route bus will also run until Sunday night for carrying workers.
The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC)'s Daulatdia Ghat Manager Shihab Uddin said the news of factories reopening had prompted workers to crowd the terminal, causing an onrush of passengers.
Eight ferries were plying the Daulatdia-Paturia route on Saturday, he added.
Similar scenes were also witnessed at Shimulia ferry ghat as garment workers started returning to the capital in droves, ignoring social distancing and hygiene rules.
Eight ferries are currently operating on the Shimulia-Banglabazar route to handle the passenger pressure.
Afzal Hossain, who works at a garment factory in Tejgaon, said he had come to Shimulia from Banglabazar with his wife and two daughters as he had been told to join work by Sunday.
Asked about health guidelines, he said: “How can we comply with health rules when there is no room to stand … Saving my job is now more crucial than my health.”
Nayon, a garment worker, said: “I managed to come to Shimulia somehow but don’t know how I will reach Dhaka [due to the ban on public transport].”
The BIWTC’s Shimulia Ghat Manager Safayet Ahmed told Dhaka Tribune that the number of both passengers and vehicles at the terminal were more than usual due to the announcement of a reopening of factories.
“Moreover, the pressure on ferries has increased as launch movements are suspended,” he said.
On the other side, big crowds of people, goods-laden trucks, ambulances and motorcycles were waiting to get on ferries from Banglabazar to Shimulia terminal.
Strong currents in the Padma were slowing down the movement of the ferries, adding to the woes of passengers waiting at the terminal, said Banglabazar Ghat Manager Salahuddin Ahmed.
However, the state minister for public administration has said that the garment workers currently outside Dhaka do not have to return to their workplaces before the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown ends on August 5.
“In this particular case, the workers do not have to worry about losing their jobs,” Farhad Hossain said in a bid to reassure workers, on a virtual program on a private television channel Friday night, reports Bangla Tribune.
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He said: “We have talked to the factory owners and they said only the workers who are currently in Dhaka will have to return to work. Those currently not in Dhaka won’t have to come to work.”
“Since there will be no public transports, workers outside Dhaka must stay where they are right now. They will gradually return to their respective workplaces after August 5. No one needs to be anxious about losing their jobs,” added the state minister.
The factories have been allowed to reopen keeping the country’s economy in mind, he added.
Situation on roads
The fear of unemployment has trumped pandemic panic as garment workers have started to return to their workplaces in Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj by road from several districts, including Sirajganj, Bogra, Tangail, Netrokona, Mymensingh, Sherpur and Jamalpur.
Due to the suspension of public transport, most were travelling by pickups, trucks, and battery-run rickshaws and rickshaw-vans; some were making their way on foot, while others were waiting for vehicles at different bus stops and intersections, brushing aside social distancing.
Some of the workers said keeping their jobs was more important than worrying about contracting coronavirus.
Saidul Islam, a resident of Mymensingh’s Phulpur upazila, said: “I left home at 4:30am and have yet to see any passenger buses. I reached the Masterbari area in Sreepur by riding on different vehicles as well as on foot.”
Another garment worker, Rabeya Akter, said: “If I do not show up at the factory today, the authorities will mark me absent for the days I got off.”
Workers waiting for transport at Chandana Chowrasta in Gazipur complained they had to change their vehicles several times on their way and fork out the extra fare.
Abu Said, an RMG worker from Mymensingh, said the government’s decision to allow the factories to reopen while keeping public transport suspended was causing immense suffering to workers.
Mawna Highway police station OC Kamal Hossain said police were struggling to keep a tight rein on the thousands of incoming workers.
“We are making announcements on megaphones, asking them to wash their hands and wear masks,” he added.
Even though the trucks are only supposed to transport goods amid the lockdown, many were carrying passengers via the Dhaka-Tangail Highway, resulting in traffic congestion.
Checkposts have been set up on the highway, but police were not taking any action in this regard.
Elenga Highway police outpost In-Charge Yasir Arafat said police were making loudspeaker announcements urging passengers to follow health guidelines.
Meanwhile, the general manager of a garment factory in Gazipur, requesting anonymity, said his organization would incur a huge financial loss if it did not reopen and ship its products within the contract period.