Impact of pandemic on RMG workers & our economy
A few days ago my friend posted an Instagram story where he exposed 'It's funny how the world economy is about to collapse just because people are buying only what they need.' The usual post was creeping my mind somedays to think about how true the line was. After that, I start generalizing myself and all family members that do we purchase unnecessary stuff that helps to continue the flow of the country economy or any other else. Because of the pandemic situation all over the world, we, I mean all family members have decided to quit the Eid shopping this time which is considering a big part of the month of Ramadan for Muslim community in the country.
A big amount of business occurred during the eid season and businessmen are waiting eagerly for the month all over the year. On a limited and special basis, the government ordered reopen shopping malls though maximum owners decided not to open their outlet due to public health security. Bangladesh is the only country where people took the lockdown situation as a granted without maintaining social distance. The lockdown situation which is extended being slow off without any government declaration.
The government allowed reopening some garments factories since April 25 under EPZs (Export Processing Zone) with 30% workers where BEPZA (Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority) introduced a proper guideline for all factories how these have been operating during the lockdown period. Probably one thing keeps the world leaders in a nightmare, what will be the status of the world economy after the pandemic because as all of us know that the deadly virus which first identified in China, which compelled to change the business strategy all over the world already.
Bangladesh holds the second position on readymade garment export after China and targeted export of $50 billion-worth apparel products by 2021what become a daydream for COVID-19.
Though the sector has been suffering setbacks due to low valuation and declining global trade since the last several years, the coronavirus has increased the figure double, some officials claimed. According to Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) website, retailers have cancelled more than $3 billion in order due to the noble coronavirus outbreak, earlier a few of them agreed to pay anyway now maximum buyers are asking about their previous order. The BGMEA informed that around $1.8 billion shipment orders have been put on hold while the rest $1.4 billion have been cancelled. The amount of nearly $1.7 billion is estimated as the cancellation order which came on December-April this year.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed the whole situation. In her speech, she also declared 5000 crores intensive for the RMG sector with 2 per cent interest and Bangladesh Bank will halt all kinds of due till June. But the question remains apprehensive how far the intensive allocated by Government help the RMG workers because of the sudden lockdown announcement since 25 March all over the country and keep shut down of factories, most of them back home without their salary.
A survey report of factory owners in Bangladesh by Mark Anner, director of Pennsylvania State University's Center for Global Workers Rights found that because of the coronavirus crisis millions of factory workers, mostly women from rural areas, are being sent home without the wages or severance pay they are owed. About 4.1 million people are involved in the apparel sector in Bangladesh. The South Asian country has just realised the impact of the pandemic when its export markets have been dropping into its economy for weeks.
More than 1 million garment workers in the RMG sector of Bangladesh have lost their jobs or furloughed already because of order cancellations and not to pay for cancelled shipments. Nearly 60% of the 316 factories that took part and answered to the survey by the Center for Global Workers' Right and the Worker Rights Consortium, a Washington D.C-based labour rights organization, confessed that they have already closed down most of their production. The outbreak is responsible for cancellation of all orders of 6% factories while nearly 46% allegedly lost a big share of their orders, the survey revealed.
The survey was conducted on March 21-25 last, including nearly 200 large suppliers in Bangladesh; where more than 750 workers are involved, who mainly make garments for European markets. It ends with the result, nearly maximum buyers refused to contribute to wages for those workers and more than 70% of those furloughed were sent home unpaid. Among them who fired less than 20% were given severance pay.
Earlier all global fashion brands refused to take their delivery, but some 14 brands have assured exporters of taking delivery of products of previous order worth over $1 billion. These brands are from the European Union, North America and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the buyers did not mention any specific time when they will take the good as the pandemic has disrupted the whole international supply chain.
The country has come back on its normal life gradually though the lockdown has extended at the end of the month, garments factories to reopen on a limited scale too. But the quiz remains questionable 'How far the safety guidelines maintain'. Because if everyone maintains the social distance (3 feet) it is quite impossible to accumulate all the workers in a factory. What about those factories, are slightly crowded and haven't enough space to maintain distance.
According to WHO experts, there is no sign of back to the previous life. So everyone should change their lifestyle and build hard-immunity on their body to fight against the virus. Are we ready for the next life? Thousands of news reports published how much the world economy has plummeted due to the Coronavirus pandemic and Bangladesh is also in the same boat. So we can only wait to cross our fingers but nothing for the best.
The writer is freelance contributor