Job cut, layoff, rights violation mar May Day observance
Several million workers employed in different sectors, including the export-oriented readymade garment sector, construction, transport and other informal sectors, have lost their jobs and more fear becoming jobless soon as the COVID-19-induced health crisis is deepening when the country is observes May Day today. Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said that COVID-19 badly affected the sector as western buyers have cancelled $3.18 billion work order due to the pandemic and this would have a direct bearing on the jobs of 2.28 million workers out of 40 million.
Senior vice-president of the RMG sector apex body Faisal Samad explained that the 2.28 million workers might lose their jobs if the work orders were not reinstated, though he did not disclose how many workers had already been fired and the extent of damage the sector envisaged. We cannot say for sure how badly the industry will be affected, at least not until July-August,’ he said. Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, however, in a presentation quoting research papers claimed that one million RMG workers have already lost their jobs.
Amid such cruel reality Bangladesh is observing the historic May Day, also called international workers’ day, today focused on the rights of the workers and the appreciation they deserve for their hard work. Different labour organisations claimed that the factories in Dhaka’s Ashulia, Savar, Mirpur, Uttara and in Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chattogram still continued firing or laying off workers. Labour leaders who joined Tuesday’s Tripartite Consultative Council meeting agreed to the proposal that RMG factory workers would receive 60 per cent of their gross salary for the month of April due to the month-long lockdown on the condition that no employees would be terminated.
But trade union leaders alleged that many factories continued to terminate workers violating the agreement. The Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments on Monday sent a list of 938 factories that had announced layoffs, to the labour secretary. Out of 938 factories 95 per cent was RMG units, ministry officials said. Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments Shib Nath Roy said that the DIFE requested the ministry to take actions against the factories that fired workers. Meanwhile, workers of the industrial belts continued staging demonstrations demanding the reinstatement and arrears violating social distancing though such violation sharply increases the coronavirus infection risk for them.
Workers, who made clothes mostly for US and European buyers, said that factory management just fired them paying their monthly wages saying that due to unavailable work orders their services were no longer required. Labour rights activists said that the garment workers were in higher risk of coronavirus infection than others as a huge number of workers were compelled to return to work when Bangladesh already confirmed more than 7,103 infections and 163 deaths till Wednesday. BILS in the presentation quoting different studies said that 90 per cent of 1.5 million hotel and restaurant workers and 3.32 million construction workers of the country lost their income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Besides, 55 per cent of 4.40 million transport workers, 57 per cent of 2.70 million domestic workers and 61 per cent of 10 million day labourers lost their income. Global trade union federation IndustryAll’s Bangladesh Council president Ruhul Amin said that roughly six to eight lakh workers in the formal sector have lost their jobs as factory owners started laying off their units illegally. He said that without ensuring safeguards of the workers many industrial units resumed production which also increased transmission risk among the workers. The International Labour Organisation in a statement on Wednesday said that the continued sharp decline in working hours globally due to the COVID-19 outbreak means that 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy that is nearly half of the global workforce — stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.
On Tuesday, the ILO also warned that there could be a second wave of the virus if the workers were allowed to return to work without adequate safeguards. ILO country director in Bangladesh Tuomo Poutiainen said the COVID-19 pandemic was posing enormous challenges for governments, employers and workers everywhere as they make effort in ensuring safety and health at work while also addressing the needs for the society and the economy to reopen. Experts said that the possibility of coronavirus spread was high among the workers of the garment sector as the factories were situated at densely populated areas where COVID-19 positive patients were identified.
Bangladesh is the second highest RMG exporters in the global market and the major export destinations are the US, the UK, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Canada. More than 40 lakh workers work for at least 4,000 garment factories located at several industrial belts across Bangladesh.