Ready-made garment workers are going home to celebrate Eid-ul-Adha with their families, amid the uncertainty over when the garment factories would reopen after Eid.
A government circular on Monday allowed only food manufacturing and processing plants, transportation and processing of sacrificial animal hides, medicines, oxygen and Covid-19 prevention products during the strict lockdown until 5 August.
No decision was made on other factories, including those in the apparel sector.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Faruque Hassan has sent a message to the association's members, expressing hope that the government would allow garment factories to open from 1 August if the Covid-19 situation improves.
Most of the factory owners have also issued notices to the workers, announcing leave for 26-30 July. Some have been verbally instructed to return to the work area by 30 July.
A top leader in the garment sector, who has close contacts with government policymakers, told The Business Standard on condition of anonymity that the government had made a decision but was reconsidering the matter. If the Covid-19 situation does not deteriorate further, the decision to start the factory may come from 1 August.
Because of the uncertainty, factory owners and buyers are worried about shipping their goods on time. They have been expecting something positive since they met with the cabinet secretary last Thursday and handed over a letter to the prime minister on Saturday.
In this situation, the workers' representatives also demanded that the government clear the issue quickly and ensure the safe return of the workers to their workplaces.
Md Towhidur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Apparel Workers Federation, told TBS about 20 lakh workers would leave Dhaka on the occasion of Eid.
"Is it possible for them to return to Dhaka in one day? It will take at least an extra two to three days. Even if they start returning to Dhaka after 5 July, it may take till 8 August for everyone to come. If the workers cannot come and join the work on time if they are fired, who will take the responsibility?" he added.
BGMEA President Faruque Hassan told TBS, "We will have all kinds of preparations to open factories from 1 August. If the government requests us to open factories, considering the situation in the industry, we will be prepared to reopen factories. Besides, we are still in talks with the government."
Noting that the workers went to the village during last year's general holiday despite the obligation of the workers to stay at their present places around the factory, Faruque said the workers would go to the village even if they were given Eid leave or not. They cannot be stopped.
Mostafiz Uddin, managing director of Denim Expert Limited, located at Karnaphuli EPZ in Chattogram, told TBS, "I cannot say anything [regarding shipment] to the clients because of the uncertainty, which has created a risk for us. We are scheduled to ship goods worth $1 million within five days after Eid."
Fatullah Apparels in Narayanganj has declared Eid holiday till 26 July to the workers. After that, if the factory is closed due to lockdown, the leave will be extended as per the relevant section of the Labour Act.
Fazle Shamim Ehsan, CEO of the company, told TBS, "There is already pressure from buyers to send the goods. I have requested some buyers to allow me some time to send goods but they have not yet sent a positive message."
The government's strict lockdown ended on 14 July. Manufacturing industries are allowed to open from 15-22 July. However, during the latest announcement of the lockdown to be effective from 23 July to 5 August, the government has called for the closure of all types of factories, including garment factories.
Wage and bonus of workers
According to BGMEA, 99.74% of its member factories paid their June wages and Eid bonuses on the last working day before Eid. Until yesterday, wages and other allowances were not paid in five factories, which is in process.
Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of BGMEA, told TBS 1,912 factories affiliated with the association are currently operational. Of these, 1,907 factories have paid wages and bonuses.
Mohammad Hatem, a senior vice-president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said all the factories have paid wages and bonuses and the workers have no complaints.
At the time of preparing this report at 7pm on Monday, the updated statistics of the industrial police on salary allowance were not available but, in the afternoon, a senior industrial police official told TBS there was dissatisfaction with a garment factory and a ceramic factory over the wage and allowance. And, discussions were going on in some factories.