Sudden influx | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 05, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:15 AM, April 05, 2020

Sudden influx

Many RMG workers head for Dhaka to join work; BGMEA urges factories to stay closed until April 11

Many were walking for miles, many travelled in crammed pickup vans and trucks meant for carrying goods. There was no scope for maintaining social distancing, which is crucial to contain the spread of coronavirus.

They were mostly garment workers, desperate to return to the capital and its adjacent areas from different other parts of the country as their employers had been calling upon them to join work.

They returned in their thousands yesterday, suffering a lot on the road as transport services remained suspended amid the nationwide shutdown. They travelled from Manikganj, Barishal, Mymensingh, Gazipur, Sherpur, Jamalpur, Netrakona and other districts, reported The Daily Star correspondents.

Later in the night, Rubana Huq, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), requested all factory owners to keep their units closed until April 11.

She urged them to take the current situation into consideration, shows a WhatsApp text sent to journalists.

The workers had left their workplaces and gone home after the government announced a 10-day shutdown from April 26, closing government and private offices, to stem the spread of coronavirus. The shutdown was later extended till April 11.

"I came from Faridpur. I had to board different vehicles to reach my office," said Jamal Hossain, 30, an operator at a garment factory in Savar on the outskirts of the capital. He said he was asked to join work from today.

Jamal said he was told that salaries might be disbursed within a couple of days. "So I did not make any delay. I need the money." 

Many other readymade garments workers echoed the statement.

Amirul Haque Amin, president of National Garment Workers Federation, said factory workers were coming back to their workplaces mainly for two reasons -- they don't want to be terminated and they need their salaries.

Usually, the salaries are paid after the seventh of each month and those workers desperately need the money, especially to buy food and pay house rent.

He, however, said the safety of the workers must be given the top priority as the virus may spread fast among them as they would be working in close proximity.

Meanwhile, Nazma Akter, president of the Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation, said many factories were being laid off during this time, showing disregard for the labour law.

"So many workers are losing their jobs. No worker should become jobless," she told The Daily Star over phone.

She opined that the managements should shut down their units for the time being, but should continue paying their workers. "This will help maintain a healthy working environment in the sector." 

In an audio message yesterday, Rubana Huq said the BGMEA wanted to ensure the maximum safety of the workers.

"No worker can be terminated if he or she is found absent at work for a valid reason," she said in the audio message on WhatsApp, without further elaboration.

Replying to a query, Mohammad Hatem, vice president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said factories working to meet work orders could run their units.

Those without work orders can reopen after April 10, he said.

Earlier, majority of the factories in Ashulia, Gazipur, Tongi, Maona, Narayanganj, Chattogram, and Narsingdi were declared closed in line with the government announcement.

Most of the factories were shut down although the government's Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment (DIFE) repeatedly said that the factory authorities could keep their units open, but they needed to ensure adequate safety measures for their workers.

SOCIAL DISTANCING IGNORED

Among those returning to workplaces yesterday, many swarmed the Dhaka-Aricha and Nabinagar-Chandra highways since the morning, reports our Savar correspondent.

They were riding on crowded trucks and pickup vans.

Contacted, Akram Sakapi Ibne Sazzad, additional commissioner (land) and executive magistrate (Ashulia circle), said steps would be taken if goods-laden vehicles were found to be carrying people.

The scenario was similar on the Dhaka-Aricha highway and at the Paturia ferry ghat, reports our Manikganj correspondent.

The local administrations failed to keep people indoors and make them maintain social distancing, said Md Manjur Hosen, executive magistrate at Manikganj deputy commissioner's office.

On the Barishal-Dhaka highway, thousands were seen travelling in trucks and pickup vans. They were sitting close to each other, our Barishal correspondent reported. One of the passengers, Alamgir, 35, said he works at a factory in Dhaka and the factory would reopen today.

Barishal Metropolitan Police's Deputy Commissioner (Traffic) Khairul Hasan said they filed cases against the owners of 12 vehicles for violating traffic rules. "We are trying to make the passengers aware of the necessity of physical distancing."

At Gazipur's Maona intersection on the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway, hundreds of people were seen waiting for vehicles, reports our correspondent in the district.

Many, upon not being able to avail any transportation, started their journey to Dhaka on foot.

Additionally, hundreds of workers, including garments workers from different upazilas of Mymensingh and adjacent Sherpur and Kishoreganj districts, were seen heading towards Dhaka via Mymensingh.

They were seen travelling by auto-rickshaws and human hauliers, reports our Mymensingh correspondent.

Visiting the Dhaka-Aricha highway and the Nabinagar-Chandra highway, our Savar correspondent did not see any public transport. People were being carried in trucks and pickup vans.

Contacted, Tajawar Akram Sakapi Ibn Sajjad, assistant commissioner (Land) in Ashulia Circle, said action would be taken if any truck or pickup carried passengers.

Javed Masud, inspector (investigation) of Ashulia Police Station, said the workers had to return as some factories would reopen.

Police were trying to make everyone maintain social distancing, he said.

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