Published:  03:41 AM, 03 August 2021

Factory workers must abide by health rules

On Friday, a few hours after the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) disclosed its recommendation to extend the current strict lockdown, the government's cabinet division issued a circular stating that export-oriented factories will be able to operate as per usual starting yesterday, August 1. Regarding this, the Directorate General (DG) of the DGHS acknowledged that the government is facing pressure to open the factories, but that, if the infections rise higher, they "will not be able to accommodate patients at the hospitals."

According to a report in this daily, no sooner had this news broken than the ferry terminals became over-packed with Dhaka-bound commuters yesterday. Reportedly, around 20,000 people were waiting to board the ferries at 10 am yesterday. No vehicles could board the three ferries which left the Kazirhaat ferry ghat around the same time, due to the rush of passengers. Needless to say, there was no space for social distancing, and people were also not paying heed to wearing masks since there was no one there to enforce such health guidelines.

Besides being a potential contributor to a higher rate of infections, this hasty reopening of factories also makes evident a total disregard for the safety of millions of workers. Most of them were given barely a day's notice to reach their workplaces in Dhaka division, while the positivity rates for Covid-19 in all divisions are at their worst yet.

This past week, Dhaka experienced a positivity rate of 35 percent, while other industry- and transport-heavy districts such as Narayanganj, Manikganj, Munshiganj and Gazipur had rates of 39 percent, 45 percent, and 44 percent respectively. We cannot criticize the workers for rushing to their workplaces as this is the only way they can survive.

Wouldn't it have been better if the workers had been vaccinated first before reopening factories?  Unfortunately, there has been a consistent lack of planning and foresight when making sweeping decisions such as this during each of the country's worst Covid-19 phases this year, and it seems this trend will continue.

The government has decided to keep open garment factories where 4.2 million workers are employed, mainly to ensure timely shipment of goods, timely payment to workers and prevent work orders from being diverted to other countries during lockdowns.Moreover, the local garment suppliers have faced either work order cancellations, unusual deferral payments or hold ups of orders worth $3.18 billion last year from their international retailers and brands.

However, some 90 per cent of the work orders were reinstated so far by the international retailers and brands after intense negotiations with suppliers, the government, the BGMEA and BKMEA leaders.Last year many workers also lost their jobs when factory owners tried to cut back on cost of operations when Covid-19 surfaced.   

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