Over 26 lakh RMG workers lost jobs, BGMEA claims 55,549
The Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), an apex body of the country's readymade garment (RMG) owners, have been providing contradictory information about the actual number of workers employed in the RMG sector now and retrenchment of workers during the Coronavirus period.
The DIFE, a department under the Labour and Employment Ministry, is responsible for ensuring welfare, safety and health of valuable human resources working in various sectors for national development.
According to DIFE report prepared on June 1 this year after reopening of the offices and factories officially, only around 15 lakh workers have been working in around 3,000 functional apparel industries - both garments, knitwear, hosiery and others - out of around 4,200 registered factories in the country.
However, the BGMEA claimed that around 36 lakh workers have been workers under its 2,274 member factories. Some more five lakh employees and workers have been working in other factories unregistered with the BGMEA and registered under other trade bodies like Bangladesh Kintwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) and Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA).
As a result, total number of apparel workers stands at around 41 lakh in the country. Of those, only 15 lakh workers joined before June 1 following the deadline of BGMEA given for joining the job. According to the announcement of BGMEA, those who do not join within the deadline will lose job.
In this situation, question arises whether the rest 26 lakh RMG workers have already lost their jobs for not joining within the deadline. If they have lost their job, an estimated 1.04 crore people, if a family consists of four members, will be directly victims of the BGMEA decision even after taking government stimulus package of Tk 5,000 crore.
Most of the country's apparel industries have announcedm reopening of their units from May 17 before the government's announcement of further extension of general holidays till May 30. Following the BGMEA announcement, most factories have started their operation from May 17.
According to RMG insiders, most factories compelled their workers to start work from May 26, a day after the Eid-ul-Fitr. They have allowed their workers only two day Eid holidays instead of three or more. In the previous years, most RMG factories allowed workers 8 to 10 days of holidays during the Eid festival.
But, the BGMEA is now claiming that a total of around 1,100 RMG factories were affected during the 66-day long general holiday for containing the deadly virus while 348 RMG factories with around 18,000 workers were laid off during the period. Around 1,926 BGMEA member factories are in operation now with only 55 per cent working capacity due to the cancellation or curtailing orders by the buyers.
When contacted, Monirul Alam, media advisor to the BGMEA, on Tuesday told this correspondent that a total of 348 RMG factories with around 18,000 workers were laid off during the period. At the same time, some 67 RMG factories have retrenched 17,549 workers following the article 24(Ka) of the Labour Law of Bangladesh.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, foreign orders of around US$ 3.18 billion were cancelled or suspended by the buyers. Some buyers have also reduced their volume of order or price of products for the same reason. Some of the factories have been in operation with only 35 per cent capacity while large size factories are using 60 per cent of their capacity. In this situation, some of the factories had to take the decision of retrenchment for their own survival, he claimed.
As per the law, all factories have the authority to reduce workers through different processes. The RMG owners have retrenched the workers in accordance with the laws and all of the victim workers were paid following the provisions of the same laws, he added.
On June 4, BGMEA President Rubana Huq gave indication of cutting 55 percent job in June considering the requirements of the RMG factories. It created panic among the RMG workers and storm of criticism across the country. Amid criticism, BGMEA finally backtracked from its stance.
When contacted, DIFE Inspector General Shibnath Roy, also an additional secretary of the civil administration, said they have found only 3,000 RMG factories out of total 4,200 functional after latest reopening of RMG units.
"We have prepared a report compiling the statements of 23 deputy inspectors general (DIG) offices across the country under the DIFE on June 1. In the report, we have found only 14 lakh to 15 lakh workers in the factories. After 15 days on June 15, further report will be prepared. The final figure of workers can be known then," he said.
He also termed the statement of the BGMEA president of cutting 55 per cent of the jobs as 'unfortunate' even after taking the government's incentive packages advantage during the Covid -19 pandemic.