Garment factories nearing full employment

03 Nov 2020 10:00 AM
Image: Collected
Finds a study by Sanem and MFO
Garment factories, it appears, are rehiring the workers let go earlier in the entire year when confronted with order cancellations by Western buyers juts as the coronavirus was taking root all over the world. 

Employment in the factories is near scaling back again to pre-pandemic times, according to a study by the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem) and Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) -- in what can be viewed as a promising development for the sector that employs more than 4 million, most females, and brings in the lion’s share of export earnings.

In April, employment in the apparel sector fell to 49%. However in September, it stood at 90 % of what it was before coronavirus arrived on these shores, according to the study.

“This is due to a growth in work orders by foreign buyers,” said Selim Raihan, executive director of Sanem. 

After hitting a 40-year-low in April, exports picked up from May and is currently performing as well as in 2019. For example, garment shipments brought home $2.4 billion in September, up 4.3% year-on-year, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.

Although there can be an improvement in jobs, it is extremely crucial to retain jobs and take measures to safeguard them from the second wave of the pandemic, Raihan said at a webinar styled “What’s Going On? Lessons from the Garment Worker Diaries: Covid Context” on Saturday, where in fact the findings of the analysis were shared.

The grab in employment also increased food security, which increased from 3% in April to 54% in September, the analysis found.

The rise in exports, which eventually increased the working hours in June-July, is because of the shipment of the un-exported orders of previous months, said Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

Between June and September, apparel items worth $10.3 billion were shipped, in contrast to $10.4 billion a year earlier.

However, the future will not look as rosy given the emerging second wave of coronavirus cases in a lot of the Western world.

“That would determine the employment situation in the sector,” Huq added.

Many workers suffered layoffs, because of this which workload on the existing workers shot up, said Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers' Solidarity.

Given the next wave in the importing countries, the livelihood of the garment employees will be heavily affected.

Hence, it was urgent to build up a backup plan for the garment sector to safeguard workers from the severe nature of the next wave, she added.

“Bangladesh must devise its policy considering its unique need, to retain jobs in the garment sector,” said Tuomo Poutiainen, country director of the International Labour Organisation.

The pandemic has been disastrous for the global economy but it has also paved the way for opportunities, he said, while stressing on the importance of the quality of data during crises.