RMG Workers: Thousands rush in, raise fear of spread
Thousands of garment workers yesterday returned to work in industrial belts in Dhaka and elsewhere amid the nationwide shutdown, raising fears of a rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. The influx of workers, desperate to reach the factories permitted to resume operation, happened a day after Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said no one would be allowed to enter the capital from outside for work.
In the absence of public transport, they travelled by pickup vans and battery-run autorickshaws, paying two to three times the usual fare to reach their workplaces. Of the 7,602 garment factories across the country, 2,356 ran operation yesterday. Of those, 443 are in Dhaka, 638 in Gazipur, 605 in Chattogram, 301 in Narayanganj, 80 in Mymensingh and 289 in Khulna, said the Industrial Police.
After a meeting with garment factory owners on Tuesday, the home minister said garment workers would not be allowed to enter the capital from outside as apparel factories would run on a limited scale with workers now staying in the city.Contacted yesterday, the minister said he was worried to see garment workers returning to Dhaka. Garment owners yesterday [on Tuesday] assured me that they would not ask any worker outside Dhaka to join work. We will ask the owners why and how workers are coming to Dhaka.”
He further said it was practically impossible to prevent such a huge number of people from entering Dhaka. “The workers may be thinking that they will lose their jobs… that’s why they are returning to Dhaka,” added the minister. Health experts say the move to reopen factories, mostly garment units, will increase the risk of wider transmission of the virus unless proper health safety measures and social distancing are ensured at workplaces and on their way to and from homes. “This decision [to reopen factories] is not right. It will put the people at a serious risk,” Prof Muzaherul Huq, former adviser (Southeast Asia Region) of the World Health Organisation, told The Daily Star recently.
“This is a total violation of the lockdown principle which means people stay at home and maintain social distancing… this would increase the rate of infections The expert said the government might have made the decision considering the economic aspects, but it should not allow factory owners to resume operation before formulation of a safety guideline for workers.