It is disappointing to know that 25 percent of garment factories which received stimulus packages during the pandemic on the condition that they would not lay off workers have not complied with this condition. A study conducted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) revealed this and other related findings. The survey from the study was conducted amongst 102 employers, 301 employed workers, and 100 unemployed workers from the garments industry of Dhaka and Gazipur districts.
While workers were laid off throughout last year, April and May saw the highest rates of job loss. 59 percent of those who had lost jobs received only their salary, while 18 percent were laid off empty-handed and with no aid that they could fall back on from their employers. Those who were unemployed tried to survive on temporary and low-paying jobs. With the absence of unemployment insurance, charity helped them stay afloat but that is certainly not a feasible nor permanent solution. It was also seen that female unemployed workers received a disproportionate amount of support from NGOs and the government, compared to their male counterparts.
Though 62.7 percent of the factories received government support for four months, 25 percent of them still laid off their employees. This happened during the pandemic, when there was already so much uncertainty, and many garment factory workers had to come back into the city after having left for their hometowns. Though 82 percent of the factories said they have a set of guiding principles to operate by, one can only wonder what they entail as they have not been made public.
It is no secret that factory workers have very little space to voice their opinions and complaints in the RMG industry, and so it is easier for unscrupulous owners to get away with not paying workers' dues or firing them. Only an external higher authority can stop them.
So, whose fault is it that a breach of conditions occurred on the factory owners' end? While the conduct of foreign buyers during the pandemic was highly condemnable, we believe it was the duty of the recipient factories to not lay off their workers (a condition they had agreed to in exchange for the subsidies) and the responsibility of the government to ensure that the factory owners were fulfilling all conditions. As such, we would urge concerned authorities such as the DIFE, Bangladesh Bank, BGMEA, BKMEA, and the labour and employment ministry to hold factory owners accountable when it comes to fulfilling conditions so that the taxpayer-backed stimulus packages benefit the workers as intended.