Thousands of textile workers have returned to work in factories in Bangladesh amid a nationwide lockdown, raising fears of an increase in the spread of the contagion.
Factories in Dhaka and Chittagong reopened on Monday after being permitted to resume work. The country’s garment factories had closed in late March but under pressure from retailers to fulfill outstanding export orders, many resumed their operations, despite a nationwide lockdown in place until May 5.
Garment forms 80% of the South Asian nation’s total annual exports and the country expected to lose export revenue of about $6bn this fiscal year as the sector has been hit by cancellations from some of the world’s largest brands and retailers.
The garment workers are worried about the corona virus and their safety, at the same time, workers felt compelled to return to work, where they earn $115 a month. The fear of corona virus is there, but they are more worried about losing their jobs, wages and benefits.
As of Monday, Bangladesh reported more than 5,900 confirmed corona virus infections and 152 deaths. Labor rights activists said they were afraid the return to work could lead to an explosion of COVID-19 cases. More than four million people work in thousands of garment factories across Bangladesh, which last year shipped apparel worth $35bn to some of the world’s leading retailers, such as H&M, Inditex and Wal-Mart.
“We have to accept corona virus as part of life. If we don’t open factories, there will be economic crisis,” said Mohammad Hatem, the vice president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Last month, the government announced a $588m package for the crucial export-oriented sector to pay its workers, but garment manufacturers say funds were not enough to mitigate the crisis. On Sunday, hundreds of textile workers took to the streets of Dhaka, demanding wage, flouting social distancing norms amid the nationwide lockdown. Garment workers have held smaller protests in recent weeks to demand wages lost during the crisis. For about a week, there have been protests all across the country, some of the workers haven’t been paid for two months and many are on the brink of starvation. A nationwide lockdown is in place until May 5, but protesters said they would continue to violate the ban on movement if their demands were not met.