Thousands of Bangladeshi factory workers left without salary on Eid

Around 60 factories failed to pay workers, most of them women, while 478 shut down in the last two months. (AN photo)
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Updated 26 May 2020

Thousands of Bangladeshi factory workers left without salary on Eid

  • 4,000 textile factories in Bangladesh employ over 4 million workers

DHAKA: More than 10,000 Bangladeshi garment factory workers spent the last day of Ramadan protesting for salaries but were left without allowances to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr with their families on Monday. 

According to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), up to 60 factories did not pay their workers before the Eid holidays while 478 have closed over the past two months after orders worth more than $3.15 billion were canceled and payments stopped by Western retailers.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the country’s textile industry has received a huge blow to its exports as many Western retailers have withheld payments for orders that have been placed or delivered. 

In March, the Bangladeshi government announced a stimulus package of $600 million in lieu of salaries and bonuses for the garment workers. 

“Most of our factories have paid the workers their salaries and bonuses before Eid. However, few couldn’t clear the payments as they had lost all work orders and faced an extreme financial crunch,” Arshad Jamal Dipu, vice president of the BGMEA, told Arab News.

“The factories which were unable to pay their workers were the ones that didn’t qualify to apply for the government stimulus package. These are mainly small and medium-scale factories that worked as subcontractors for big factories,” Dipu added. 

According to government guidelines, only factories that have exported 80 percent of their products in recent years could claim government funding.  

Dipu said that in many cases the buyers are offering a discounted rate or deferred payment to the Bangladeshi garment suppliers citing an “act of God” which threw the industry into a “vulnerable situation.”

Nazma Akter, president of the combined garment workers’ federation, said her organization has the information of around 20,000 factory workers who were left unpaid before Eid. 

“We will sit with factory owners as well as the BGMEA leaders immediately after the Eid vacation. Our factory workers should be paid immediately as they belong to the marginalized group of society,” Akter told Arab News. 

Meanwhile, the government is considering legal action against factories that have failed to pay their workers on time. 

“The factory management was supposed to pay all the dues before Eid holidays. We will file cases in the labor court against the factory authorities once the courts resume after Eid vacation,” Shib Nath Roy, inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, told Arab News, adding: “We will also stop renewing their licence to operate for failing to pay staff’s dues.”

Textile exports are the largest foreign currency earning source for Bangladesh. 

Last year, the sector earned $36 billion for the country, according to the BGMEA.

There are over 4,000 textile factories in the country employing more than 4 million workers, most of which are women, the body said.

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

Updated 08 July 2020

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

  • Devastated family mourn latest victim of health system struggling to cope with outbreak

NEW DELHI: The death of an expectant mom and her unborn child after 13 hospitals in one day refused to treat her has put India’s strained health care system under the spotlight.

The devastated husband and 6-year-old child of eight-month pregnant Neelam Singh, 30, are still struggling to come to terms with the “unwarranted loss” a month after her agonizing death in an ambulance outside a hospital in New Delhi.

With more than 100,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Indian capital, Singh became another victim of a health system battling to cope with patient demand due to a lack of bed space and infrastructure.

That, however, has been little comfort for her family members who said they would never be able to overcome the trauma.

“Those 12 hours were the most traumatic experience of our lives, and we have to live with that trauma,” Shailendra Kumar, Singh’s brother-in-law, told Arab News on Tuesday. Singh had developed complications with her pregnancy on June 5, and Kumar said she was rushed to the same hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh where she had been going for regular checkups, but was turned away.

“Shivalik (hospital) gave no reason for refusing to admit her. Despite our pleadings, the hospital did not budge from its stand,” Kumar added.

A day-long ordeal ensued, with one hospital after the other unable to treat her. Eventually, she died in an ambulance some 35 kilometers away from her home in Khoda.

“I took her to 13 hospitals, both government and private facilities, and every one refused to admit her. The image of her writhing in pain will always haunt me,” said Kumar, who was accompanied by Singh’s husband. He added that the reasons provided varied from “high costs” to a lack of facilities.

“One hospital told me that I could not pay the high cost so better try my luck somewhere else. At Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida, I was asked to buy a coupon for COVID-19 treatment for 4,500 rupees ($60), which I did, but still, they refused her entry. It was not the loss of one life but two lives,” he said, referring to her unborn child.

He pointed out that the entire family was in a state of shock following her death with her husband “the worst impacted.”

Kumar filed a complaint against Shivalik and other hospitals but said so far “no action has been taken.”

A day after Singh’s death, the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, which Noida falls under, ordered an inquiry and issued instructions for all hospitals “to admit patients regardless of the nature of the case.”

However, 20 days later, on June 26, a similar incident was reported in the Dadri area of Noida.

On that occasion, 21-year-old Robin Bhati had developed a fever, and relatives had taken him to a nearby hospital where a week earlier he had been admitted suffering from influenza. However, the hospital refused to admit him and referred him to a different facility.

Five hours and four hospitals later, a city hospital agreed to take him in, but by then Bhati was already seriously ill and hours later he died after suffering a heart attack.

“We don’t know whether he was a COVID-19 patient or not, but why should hospitals refuse to admit a patient in need of immediate attention,” his uncle Jasveer Bhati told Arab News. A number of the Noida hospitals which allegedly denied admission to Singh and Bhati refused to comment on the cases.

In a statement on Monday, the office of Noida’s chief medical officer said: “Strict instructions have been given to all the private and government hospitals to admit all patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr. Loveleen Mangla, a pulmonologist working with Noida-based Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, said: “The government did not prepare itself to face this situation. Now the government is trying to create extra beds and medical facilities, but it’s late. They should have done this three months ago when the nationwide lockdown started.

“With the entire medical infrastructure overstretched and not many quality health workers available in the government hospitals, it’s a grim scenario now,” Mangla added.

With more than 723,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, India is now the world’s third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil, with approaching 21,000 people losing their lives.

And the problem is not unique to northern India.

On Saturday, the southern Indian city of Bangalore reported the case of 50-year-old Vasantha, who was rejected by 13 hospitals before she was accepted by the K.C. General Hospital where she eventually died.

Lalitha, a relative of Vasantha, said: “Some hospitals said they didn’t have beds; some said they didn’t have COVID-19 testing facilities, and that way we lost critical hours. She died because of a problem with her respiratory system.”

Experts have questioned whether health care facilities in India are being overstretched purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anant Bhan, a Delhi-based independent researcher in global health, policy and bioethics, said: “Is there a real shortage of beds or is it the shortage caused by lack of efficient management? If the cases increase further, we might find it difficult to provide care.”