10,000 garment workers lose jobs in six months

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More than 10,000 workers have been laid off from various garment factories in Gazipur district in the last six months.

Most of them were laid off during the coronavirus crisis, according to the Industrial Police. And the local economy has been hit hard because of it.

Business leaders say that the district’s economy is losing at least Tk10 crore a month because of the job terminations of these workers.

Many of the laid-off workers are changing their professions in order to survive. Failing to return to their factories, some are trying to make a living by setting up vegetable selling stalls, and some others are trying to be hawkers as well.

Concerned people say that survival is the biggest challenge, so they do not support the dismissal of workers from the factories.

Gazipur Industrial Police Superintendent Siddiqur Rahman said, “There are 2,072 different garment factories operating in the district, and they employ around 15 lakh workers.”

“In the last six months, 10,736 workers have been dismissed from these factories. Due to various crises, these job cuts have been made from January 1 to July 7 of this year. And most of the job cuts were done amid the Covid-19 outbreak.”

In Gazipur, the BGMEA has 830 factories, BKMEA has 138, BTMEA has 122 and other organisations have 982 more factories, he said.

According to the Industrial Police, among the laid off workers, the most notable were 2,000 workers of Casiopia Fashion of Elegance Group, and 1,200 of Tanaj Fashion in the Joydebpur area.

Data reveals that there are many small and large factories in the district that are in the same position as BGMEA and BKMEA listed factories.

Most of these factories operate under sub-contract. And because of the coronavirus outbreak, many companies working on sub-contract have closed down. Consequently, the workers of these factories have become unemployed.

The simultaneous terminations in other large factories have had a negative impact on the local economy.

Advocate Anwar Sadat Sarker, president of the Gazipur Chamber of Commerce, said a worker’s income involves various sectors of society, including his family, grocers and landlords. When workers suffer financially, it has a negative impact on the local economy as well, he said.

“If 10,000 workers are terminated in the district and the average salary of each worker is fixed at Tk10,000, the economy of the district suffers a loss of at least Tk10 crore per month,” added Anwar Sadat Sarker.

The 10,000 workers who were dismissed almost at the same time are now living an almost inhuman existence. Many of them have changed their profession to survive. Some of them have become masons’ associates, vegetable sellers, peddlers and even small-scale shopkeepers.

Moreover, many of them have sent their families to their village home to reduce household expenses, while many more workers have returned home permanently as they did not get any jobs for their survival in the city.

Local markets have been affected by the fact that many workers have left the area almost simultaneously. The business in grocery and beauty shops has decreased. Landlords are also feeling the pinch because their rooms are now vacant.

Zillur Hossain, a laid off worker of a factory, said he had been working at the factory for 12 years.

Despite there being no complaint against him, he was fired on June 1. And he has not received his salary from the factory. Fifty more workers like him have been laid off, he said.

“My family and I are facing problems because of the lack of jobs. I can’t find a new job. I don’t know what to do,” he said.

Abdul Halim used to work at a factory, but now he sells vegetables in a van.

“The factory sacked me for no reason. Since I cannot find a job, I now sell vegetables to survive with my family,”said Abdul Halim.

The factory said that they had to lay off workers because international buyers have cancelled purchase orders over the coronavirus epidemic.

Many small and large factories have suffered losses because of the downturn in the international market. And so, the workers were laid off, they claimed.

Abbas Uddin, councillor of Ward 12 of the city corporation, said that at least 1,500 workers of his ward area have become unemployed during the coronavirus outbreak. A large number of them have returned home with their families, he added.

Moshrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers Unity Forum, told reporters that the dismissals were inhumane.

“Because of the epidemic, the workers are unable to make a strong movement to realise their demands. And owners are laying off workers on various pretexts, which is very worrying,” she said.

BGMEA vice-president Faisal Samad blamed the coronavirus epidemic for the crisis.

He says that the garment industry is witnessing a crisis. Many factory owners are under financial pressure as a result of order cancellations and reduction of product orders.

“Many owners have closed their factories. The decision to increase or decrease manpower is a matter for the factory management. However, BGMEA ensures that labour laws are followed in the factory and that the workers are paid their dues and all other benefits,” he said.

Abdus Salam Murshedy, former president of BGMEA and president of the Bangladesh Exporters Association, said, “The market for readymade garments is shrinking due to the epidemic. In this case, the owners of our small and medium factories are unable to maintain their capacity.”

Though the government has provided them with many packages,not everyone has received the benefits. So, it is not possible to pay workers without any work orders, or to retain them, he added.

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