Readymade garment exports to the tune of $4.6 billion were lost during March-May amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but the gap almost vanished by June demonstrating hope for a recovery of the sector, a recent rapid survey finds.
The study shows that in 2020 the RMG industry accounted for 82 per cent of Bangladesh's exports and 11 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP).
The Mapped in Bangladesh (MiB) project of the Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (CED) of Brac University (BracU) organized recently a webinar on "Covid-19 Experience: Workers' Perspective" based on the findings of the survey on RMG workers titled "The Impacts of Covid-19 on the Lives of Workers in the Garment Industry".
The rapid survey is being carried out in collaboration with Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (CED) and Brac James P. Grant School of Public Health (JPGSH) of Brac University and the Subir and Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
In the study, 1,057 garment workers were communicated through phone calls between June 30 and July 13, 2020.
Dr. Sanchita Banerjee Saxena, Executive Director, Institute for South Asia Studies, and Director, Subir and Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies, University of California at Berkeley, presented the findings of the rapid survey at the webinar.
82 per cent of workers said the income they had in April/May was less than the income in February and at the time of the survey, 52 per cent of the respondents said that they saved less than what they saved in February, the pre-COVID-19 period.
77 per cent respondents (80% of women and 72% of men) said it was difficult to feed everyone in their households. 69 per cent of workers ate less meat, fish and eggs in May compared to February, but 40 per cent ate more pulses (lentils, chickpeas, etc.), and 74 per cent ate about the same amount of rice and wheat during the period.
When asked how they coped during the period, 60 per cent of workers (65% women and 55% men) said they did not save or use their savings to pay for food; 92 per cent (90% of women and 96% of men) said they reduced other expenses.
The average of laid off workers, as reported by the respondents, was 232. 70 per cent of the workers said they were very worried about workers in their factory who lost their joba or might lose their jobs because of the pandemic.
Dr. Atonu Rabbani, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka and Associate Scientist, BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, commented that it was trickier to get lay-off data from workers as factories would be more appropriate to collect data. He also explained different angles for interpretation of the collected data.
Begum Monnujan Sufian, State Minister for Labour and Employment (MoLE), was present as the Chief Guest at the webinar. She depicted various steps and initiatives that the government took to open the garment factories keeping the welfare of the workers in mind including implementing the government-declared stimulus packages for the RMG sector, forming crisis committees, providing telemedicine services to workers, formulating health safety guidelines for workers with cooperation of ILO and so on.
Professor Dr. Wahiduddin Mahmud, Economist and Former Advisor, Caretaker Government, said the factories of RMG sector were born to export which made the situation of the country very unique. The way the shocks have been absorbed by the garments sector is different from other parts of the world.
Dr. Rubana Huq, President, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said brands should be made responsible for the adversities that Bangladesh faced due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
She mentioned that the industry took necessary initiatives to open the factories gradually as per the demand of the economy.
Ms. Taslima Akhter, Activist and Coordinator, Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity, said the workers were most vulnerable amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Professor Dr. Rahim B. Talukdar, Team Leader, MiB and Adviser, CED-BRACU, the chair of the webinar, made the concluding remark. Syed Hasibuddin Hussain, Project Manager, MiB, CED-BRACU, moderated the event.
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