Factory owners have urged the government to defer the inspection of industrial factories on compliance issues – slated to start in mid-October this year – to allow pandemic-stricken businesses some scope to stay afloat.
Speaking at a press conference organised by the FBCCI on Wednesday, they argued that the inspection will be fruitful if carried out after the government's initiatives to relocate various industries are implemented.
If small-scale plastic or shoe factories are inspected at this moment, owners might be fearful of closure, they said, adding many of them may keep their factories shuttered to avoid inspection, leaving their workers unemployed.
The government has decided to inspect workplace safety in around 42,000 factories across the country in the wake of a series of industrial accidents that have overshadowed the image of the country's industrial practices overseas.
Involving the FBCCI, BGMEA, BKMEA and other sector-specific associations, the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida) under the Prime Minister Office (PMO) will lead the inspection to identify problems in the interest of ensuring workplace safety.
At Wednesday's press conference, the authorities, however, reassured the worried factory owners, saying that no industrial unit will be closed in a hurry after the inspection.
Mentioning that the inspection committee will sit down to see what can be done in this regard, they said if the situation in a factory is found bad, they will be given time to prepare.
In this case, Bida called for ensuring safety drills in each factory at least once a month besides improving conditions in the factory.
For their part, businesses demanded that inspection activities be conducted keeping in mind the protection of factory owners. They also called for withdrawing duty on the import of fire extinguishers.
Addressing the press conference through videoconferencing, Jashim Uddin, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce & Industries (FBCCI), called upon the industry owners to cooperate in the inspection.
He also said that all traders' organisations, including the FBCCI and the BGMEA, would stand by factory owners to make sure they do not face any harassment in the process.
Mentioning that the coordinated move to inspect compliance at industrial units has been a long-standing demand of the trade bodies, the FBCCI president said, "I hope entrepreneurs will benefit from this. It will add a new dimension to the country's economy."
"Traders have been actively participating in such initiatives of the government from the very beginning. But in case of any accident, it is seen that the industry owners are brought to book but no step is taken to see whether there was any negligence on the part of the government agencies concerned. We will demand that everyone involved in any incident be brought under the law."
Industry owners have to obtain safety-related licences from a number of government agencies, he mentioned, adding if one-stop service can be ensured for entrepreneurs by setting up a safety cell at Bida, their problems could be reduced to a great extent.
Avijit Chowdhury, convener of the central coordinating team for the inspection, said, "We have been working on the issue since the beginning of this financial year. Business organisations have been involved in the process as per instructions from the prime minister. We want to complete the inspection work by involving both public and private stakeholders."
"It depends a lot on the success of this first phase of the inspection. As the country's economy is growing, our thoughts must be time-befitting. Therefore, this is the right time to take steps to ensure safety in the industrial sector."
In a presentation of the guidelines and methodologies of inspection activities, it was said that businesses will be notified three days before they are inspected. The expert team will scrutinise all safety-related issues, including the design of the factory building, and the fire safety system.
Around 5,000 factories will be inspected in 90 days. In the first 50 days, some 108 teams will complete the inspection and the ancillary work will be completed in the remaining 40 days.
Meanwhile, the government will set up a new authority to register or renew any new industry in the country.
This authority will comprise representatives of all parties concerned, including the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment (DIFE) under the Ministry of Labour and Employment, the Environment Ministry, and the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence.
The activities of this authority will be similar to those of a one-stop service centre. Currently, one has to obtain separate clearances from different government agencies.
A sub-committee has been formed under the chairmanship of the executive chairman of Bida to decide the scope of work of the new authority and the methods of its work.