The coronavirus pandemic is taking a heavy toll on Bangladesh, which is the world’s second-largest garment exporter.
Media report that thousands of workers – most of whom are garment workers – have lost their jobs in what industry insiders describe as a fall in production and work orders amidst the coronavirus crisis. According to the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), around 60 garment factories have terminated a total of 17,579 workers until the 31st of May. According to the same data, 57 BGMEA-members have dismissed 8364 workers and 10 BKMEA-member factories have dismissed a total of 637 garment workers. Two factories under Bangladesh Textile Mills Association have also cut nine jobs. Labour leaders have alleged, however, that the number of dismissed workers is actually much higher than the available official figures. “Major job losses were witnessed in May despite repeated calls from the government not to do so and its stimulus package for making wage payments during the pandemic”, they said.
According to media reports, media report that, among the total COVID-19 infected workers in Bangladesh, 73% are from the garment sector. Many workers have been infected since the government allowed factories to reopen on the 26th of April. Until the 23rd of May, data showed that 170 workers had tested positive. Within a week, the infected number rose to 251. The six industrial zones of Asulia, Gazipur, Narayongonj, Chittagong, Khulna and Mymensingh, where most factories produce ready-made garments, are among the most affected.
Excerpt from Clean Clothes.
The updates from Bangladesh are alarming on many levels. First and foremost, Bangladesh is not prepared to tackle the pandemic and the garments workers are among the most affected and vulnerable groups. Secondly, given that the garments sector dominates Bangladesh’s export trade, the pandemic is pushing the country’s economy on the verge of a massive crisis. Thirdly, from a gendered perspective, the garments industry created employment opportunities for many women, especially from rural areas. Even though the working conditions are poor and the workers are often underpaid, many women from villages preferred working in garments instead of working as domestic helpers in urban households. For them, losing their jobs will not only pose economic challenges, but also raises the risk of an increase in domestic violence. The unemployment crisis will take a heavy toll on the livelihood of the workers and will cause manifold challenges. Therefore, finding a solution that protects the garments workers from infection and unemployment is important before the situation escalates into a humanitarian disaster.