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.