May 2020 Covid blog

This blog aims to collect daily information about how the new Coronavirus COVID-19 is influencing garment workers' rights in supply chains around the world. It will be updated as new information comes in from media and the Clean Clothes Campaign global network. Information is posted as it comes in from the network and cannot always be double-checked.

31 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that garment workers were assaulted yesterday after protesting against the factory management's announcement that the 1200 garment workers would each have to complete 150 extra hours outside their usual schedule without additional pay. The factory in question, Bay Creation Apparels, is located in Narayanganj. Workers alleged having been  ambushed and assaulted during the protest by outsiders whom they suspected have been hired by factory management. After the situation escalated, workers took to the streets and blocked the nearby Dhaka-Sylhet highway for two hours. According to the Industrial Police, factory management committed, after workers' demonstration, to withdraw the new notice. 

Media report that the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) has called upon the government to impose anti-dumping duty on Indian yarn imports in order to protect the national textile industry. The call comes soon after Indian clothing manufacturers suggested their government impose more duty on garments coming from Bangladesh. Monsoor Ahmed, secretary of the BTMA, reports that yarn exports worth around $1.4 billion have remained unsold over the last two months. 

Media report the Bangladesh Bank has disbursed another Tk 725.85 crore in May in favour of the banks for payment of garment workers' wages for the month of April. Under the scheme, the industries were allowed to get loans at 2% service charge, which allowed more than 1800 factories to pay their workers' wages. 

Cambodia: Media report that the Thai government has tightened control over their border with Cambodia in order to prevent Cambodian workers from entering Thailand. The border will remain shut until the 30th of June in order to, according to government representatives, prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

India: Media report that only 10% of non-food retailers have money to pay salaries. Estimates set the Indian retail sector to face revenue losses of up to 40% and predict that many small and medium enterprises in the sector will likely shutdown as a result of the impacts of the coronavirus crisis. In the absence of any major support from the government, the article further reports that as many as 20-25% of manufacturers may be out of business or will need financial infusion to stay afloat. 

Media report that the parliamentary standing committee on labour is set to pitch for a credible social security cover for migrant workers. Members of the committee, cutting across party lines, have already discussed this idea among themselves and will firm up the proposal as they meet on the 5th of June. 

Thailand: Media reports that Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that, starting tomorrow, all non-Thai nationals who currently have a valid work permit or have already been granted permission from a Thai government agency can apply for permission to enter the country. "They will need to request a ‘Certificate of Entry into The Kingdom of Thailand’ at least 10 working days before the date of intended departure", the Ministry said, and all requests for entry will be approved or rejected on a case by case basis, considering urgency and economic importance. In this sense, it seems unlikely that permits will be handed to informal workers.

30 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that new job postings have decreased by 87%, highlighting the strain the country's labour market has been going through because of the coronavirus crisis. According to a guesstimate of job loss during April, about ten million people must have lost their jobs. If one adds to the 300,000 who were already unemployed before the crisis, one can conclude that nearly one in five among the members of the labour force in Bangladesh were without jobs in April, Rizwanul Islam, a former special adviser for the employment sector at the ILO office in Geneva, said. 

Media report that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved US$732 million emergency assistance for Bangladesh to help the country address the challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis. Usually, IMF does not provide loan to its member countries without any condition. But, this time, it has approved this load unconditionally, a representative of the IMF said. 

Cambodia: Media report that, according to the World Bank, the coronavirus crisis has put at least 1.76 million jobs at risk. "The collapse of growth drivers has hurt economic growth and put at least 1.76 million jobs at risks", the World Bank said. The Bank estimates that poverty in Cambodia could increase by between 3 to 11% among households involved in key sectors like manufacturing and the garment industry.

Media report that, faced with low economic prospects in Cambodia, around 100 Cambodian migrant workers have attempted to return to Thailand despite the border being closed. Indeed, migrant workers who have returned from countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, have been facing a tough economic situation because the domestic economy, especially the critical garment and tourism sectors, have been severely hit by the current crisis. Dy Thehoya, a program officer at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, explained that returning migrant workers faced mounting loan repayments and few job prospects in Cambodia. For this reason, he urged the state to consider delaying loan repayments, in order to avoid property confiscation. Meanwhile, another article reports that 54 Cambodian migrant workers have been arrested at the Thai-Cambodian border in Sa Kaeo for allegedly entering the country illegally. Workers explained that they intended to enter Thailand to find jobs, as there weren't any in Cambodia.

India: According to reports from the CCC network, the Garment Labour Union Affiliated HMS organised a protest against workers' dismissals, unpaid wages, the increase to 10 hours of work per day and other alterations to Labour Laws. In addition, a memorandum with 11 points was submitted to the Joint Labour Commissioner, urging the government to solve workers issues. 

GLU Demo

Mexico: The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre invited ten companies from the manufacturing industry with operations in Mexico to respond to the wide range of labour and health rights violations against workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Only two of them responded. The allegations documented include unfair dismissals, forced holidays, reduction in salaries, lack of protection equipment for essential workers, increase in working hours, lack of good-faith negotiations with trade unions and workers and factories refusing to shut their establishments when they were not recognised as essential sectors.

Nigeria: Media report that John Adaji, president of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), has said that workers in the textile and garment industries are amongst  the most affected by the coronavirus crisis in the country. He explained that, with the gradual ease of the lockdown, some factories have started to reopen at reduced capacity, but that, as orders are cancelled and no new orders are placed, it is difficult for employers to fulfil their obligations to workers. "The major challenge at the moment is lack of sales of the limited number of goods produced by the factories. Without sales it will be difficult for the employers to fulfil their obligations to the workers.  We hope things return to normal as soon as possible", Adaji said. 

Pakistan: Media report that around six million people in Pakistan, many of whom are garment workers, are facing employment insecurity due to the coronavirus crisis. Many garment workers have lost their jobs, remain unpaid and are uncertain of what the post-pandemic world may be able to offer them. Garment workers report that they have been dismissed and, in some cases, not even paid for the month of April. Workers also report having been forced to sign resignation letters and facing debts that they are now unable to pay. "This month we were called to the factory for our dues. We were given our salaries only for the month of March. And the supervisor told us that our work with them was over. He didn’t explain why. And he said there was no salary for April", Sama, a garment worker from Karachi, explained. "All that we have are sackings and hopelessness", Farhan, that also worked in a garment factory in the area, explained. Zehra Khan, general secretary of the The Home-Based Women Workers Federation, said that "It's hard to say exactly how many workers were fired during this lockdown in Karachi but it’s a fairly large number." Zehra added that many of the factories and companies have not paid their employees in full or have ended their services, which is a clear violation of the Sindh government’s orders. 

Petitions and relief efforts

Labour behind the Label focusing on UK brands.

Oxfam Australia focusing on Australian brands.

Public Eye petition in German and French.

Abiti Puliti petition in Italian.

Traidcraft focusing on UK brands.

Remake focusing on global brands.

Garment worker Covid relief collects relief efforts.

Donate to the CCC relief fund in EUR:

Donate to the CCC relief fund in USD:


Demands, recommendations, proposals

CCC list of demands upon brand and retailers.

Global union and employer joint call to action.

WRC and MHSSN safety recommendations.

Information trackers

WRC's brand tracker on which brands pay for orders

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre maintains a continually updated live-resource of articles on the influence of COVID19 on supply chains and is tracking brand responses to the crisis in dealing with their orders.

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre's created a COVID-19 Action Tracker, monitoring industry responses, government actions and workers’ demands.

International Labor Rights Forum created a resource for global solidarity during COVID19.

Labour Start collects materials coming in from trade unions around the world.

The International Trade Union Confederation collects trade union news on the COVID19 crisis.

The Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the OECD maintains a website with partner responses.

Retail dive tracks retailers’ response to COVID19.

The US Chamber of Commerce maintains a corporate aid tracker.

Foot Wear News tracks fashion philanthropy.

ICNL has a civic freedom tracker.

Omega research foundation tracks excessive use of force by law enforcement during the pandemic.

HRDN resource on business, human rights, digital rights and privacy.

Background and position papers

WRC's white-paper "Who will bail out the workers?"

WRC and Penn State University on cancelled orders in Bangladesh "Abandoned?"

OECD's paper on COVID-19 and responsible business conduct.

ECCHR policy paper "Garment Industry in intensive care?"

ECCHR, SOMO and Pax paper on responsible business relationships.

AFWA's paper The emperor has no clothes.

Traidcraft Exchange "Bailing out the supply chain"

Basic health information

Hesperian Health Guides' COVID-19 Fact Sheet

29 May 2020

Bangladesh: In a statement, the Sommolito Garment Sramik Federation reports that thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh continue to go without payment. In a clear violation of the Labour Act, 920 factories are yet to pay salaries for April and 1258 have failed to pay Eid bonuses to employees. Of the factories that have failed to pay salaries for April, 161 are BGMEA members and 60 are from the BKMEA. Regarding the payment of Eid bonuses, 358 are BGMEA-member factories and 85 are BKMEA-members. The Federation urged the Ministry of Labour and Employment to take appropriate measures to ensure that workers receive their salaries for April, along with Eid-Bonus and also take proper legal action by filing criminal cases against the owners of the defaulting factories.

Media report that, as garment workers return from Eid vacation, garment factory owners have started downsizing their workforce, forcing workers to sign resignation letters and, in some cases, even using violence to "get things done". Workers added that the local police stations have failed to record their complaints. Some workers explained that, right after entering the factory premises, factory authorities had snatched away their identity cards and some even alleged being pushed out the door. "The factory authorities forced me to sign the resignation letter. Whoever were not signing were beaten up; the workers were pushed out the door after snatching away their ID cards" a garment worker of MHC Fashion Ltd in Gazipur’s Sreepur explained, adding that around 350 workers had been terminated in that same factory. Sources in the garment industry said that around 50 factories, both local and foreign-owned, located in Dhaka, Gazipur, Savar and Narayanganj are downsizing their workforce. Some of the factories include Dekko Garments Ltd, Waymart Fashion Ltd, Ridisha Fashion, Trouser Line, Froster International and Delta Textile Ltd. 

Cambodia: According to reports from the CCC network, civil society groups have sent a joint statement calling on the Cambodian government to immediately and safely repatriate a group of 150 Cambodian migrant workers and students who are currently stuck in Malaysia and other stranded Cambodian citizens wanting to return. They added that the government should provide migrants with access to basic needs and proper health care while awaiting their return as well as pay for the additional costs related to health measures in order to return to Cambodia. They made clear that permitting their return is consistent with article 40 of the Cambodian Constitution, which safeguards the right of Cambodian citizens to settle abroad and to return to Cambodia, and Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law. Indeed, on the 27th of May, the Prime Minister of Cambodia announced that Cambodian citizens did not have to comply with the requirement of having doctors’ notes certifying that they don’t have COVID-19. Although this opens the path for these 150 workers and students to return to Cambodia, more must be done. Many of the Cambodian citizens stranded in Malaysia assert that Cambodian embassy officials in Kuala Lumpur have provided them no information to facilitate their return, leaving them uncertain when or whether they will be able to return home.

Media report that garment workers who worked in factories that have suspended operations amidst the coronavirus outbreak are not receiving the financial support promised by the government. The country's laid off garment workers are supposedly receiving US$70 a month, around 37% of the minimum wage, of which the government is supposed to pay a third. It seems, however, that while most factory owners are paying their share, the government money is failing to reach many workplaces, leaving workers facing abject poverty.

IndustriALL reports that Cambodian trade unionist Soy Sros has been released from jail, after being detained without trial for nearly two months. She was arrested for a post on social media criticising her employer, Superl Cambodia Ltd, for suspending union members, including a pregnant woman. Pav Sina, Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) president, explained that "While we welcome the release, CUMW stresses that the government must drop all investigations on Soy Sros. Superl Cambodia Ltd must immediately reinstate her with full back pay, benefits and damage compensation."

India: Media report that the decision of temporary suspension and/or dilution of labour laws taken by various states including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat will disproportionately affect the female workforce. According to experts, the suspension of benefits and equal remuneration will result in a decline in female participation within the workforce. Indeed, besides the obvious effect of these new laws on the mental and physical health of factory workers, they seem to have a more exaggerated effect on one specific section of the labour force – the female workers of the garment industry. "A lot of women from our factory have gone back home due to coronavirus and their salaries have not been given. These new working hours will only add to our woes", said Sandhya, a garment factory worker in Bengaluru.

Media report that the Uttar Pradesh state government has announced Rs 1000 compensation for  migrant workers who are currently in quarantine and said the same amount would be disbursed to another 300,000 migrant workers. The state government further declared that, so far, the compensation of Rs 1,000 has been given to 330,000 manufacturing labourers. 

Meanwhile, media report that, as conditions in Shramik Special trains fail to improve, a body of a migrant worker, who presumably died days ago, has been found in the toilet of one of these trains. As reported in the article, "The lockdown in India, in its third month now, has caused an unprecedented humanitarian crisis". In the first phases of the lockdown, migrants lost lives and became severely ill in an attempt to walk home in the absence of transport. Later, when the Centre announced Shramik Special trains, a new set of problems presented themselves, thanks to scheduling conflicts, lack of food during long journeys, unavailability of tickets and an overall lack of information. Migrants continue to walk and hitchhike, and are exposed to the dangers of the open road. Another article reiterates that, so far, at least a dozen deaths on Shramik Special trains have been reported in the past week. 

Vietnam: Media report that Vinatex, who owns around 200 garment factories in Vietnam and employs more than 100,000 workers that produce for the likes of Zara and H&M, has said that, due to lack of new orders, the company may soon furlough up to 50,000 garment workers. "As things stand, 30% to 50% of jobs will disappear by May" Le Tien Truong, the CEO of Vinatex, said. The same article further reports that, according to data from the country’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, orders for textiles and footwear have dropped 70% by value for April and May compared to the same period last year. Indeed, some garment operators have adapted to the demand shock by producing masks, but Vinatex explains that it will not be enough to make up for disappeared orders. 

28 May 2020

Global: Members of the European Parliament have called upon the European Commission to take the initiative to hold European textile companies accountable in order to: 

  • Respect the freedom of association and engage in social dialogue with unions and representatives of workers, ideally with the support of authorities with the aim to mitigate the adverse effects of the crisis; 
  • Honour the payment of all orders placed even if the merchandise was not shipped; 
  • Extend the delivery deadlines to enable the suppliers to meet the demand; 
  • Ensure that layoffs are avoided, that wages are paid in time and that legal dismissal conditions are respected; 
  • Ensure that safety and health at the workplace of suppliers which are an important feature in this branch dealing with hazardous products are in line with WHO recommendations (social distancing, PPE...) guaranteed when their activity will recover and that their right of withdrawal is respected in case these conditions are not fulfilled; 
  • Ensure that labour rights are enforced, with a special attention for the workers who are sick or present symptoms of coronavirus and for migrant workers; 
  • Reexamine their purchasing practices in light of the above; 
  • Facilitate the activities of independent labour inspectors and social auditors in the clothing and footwear supply chain. 

"The cancellation of orders by many European companies and their refusal to compensate local suppliers despite their societal commitments and contractual obligations pose severe problems for millions of people, the workers, their families and communities", the letter makes clear. It has been sent to Didier Reynders (Commissioner for Justice), Thierry Breton (Commissioner for Internal Market) and Phil Hogan (Commissioner for Trade). 

Bangladesh: The Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh has announced that Team Europe is mobilising over €334m for the fight against COVID-19 and its consequences in Bangladesh, of which €113m will help the government provide cash assistance to workers in the export-oriented industries and support the virtually non-existent social protection system. "COVID-19 knows no borders and hits the most vulnerable hardest. Team Europe’s support of some EUR 334 million will assist the government of Bangladesh in providing support to those who are most affected by COVID-19, in terms of health and livelihoods", Rensje Teerink, the Ambassador of the EU, said.

Forbes has released an article on the struggle between manufacturers in garment-producing countries and global brands, centred around the question of who should bear the financial brunt of the fashion industry’s lost season: The retailers that design and market the clothes and reap much of the profits or the factories that sew them together, often on razor-thin margins. In addition, the article reports that early research indicates that the coronavirus crisis may have deepened consumer loyalty to sustainable and ethical brands. 

Media report that the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA) is providing food assistance to around 7000 families who work at different ongoing economic zones and whose livelihoods have been affected by the prolonged nationwide shutdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Media report that, as of today, workers have started their return journey back to Dhaka after Eid celebrations. In crowded ferries and other vehicles such as pickup vans and microbuses, social distancing measures have failed to be implemented. 

Cambodia: Media report that less than half of the garment workers affected by factory suspensions in Kandal province have received their wages as, so far, only 14 of the 44 factories affected in the area are receiving government subsidy support. "Until now, the situation has been varied. Some have received suspension supplements from companies and the government and some have not. There is also a grey area between whether factories are suspended or shutdown permanently", Sieng Sambath, president of the Workers Friendship Union Federation explained.

Media report the Prime Minister of Cambodia has announced the reopening of the country's borders to Cambodian nationals who have been living abroad during the coronavirus pandemic, regardless of whether they have been medically cleared of infection. "Any Cambodians who are holding Cambodian passports and want to return to Cambodia are not required to have doctors’ notes certifying that they don’t have COVID-19", he said. Across the border, migrants will be required to undergo a COVID-19 test and will be placed in isolation for 14 days before being granted permission to return to their families. The news was welcomed by Cambodian migrant workers in Malaysia, but they urged the government help them return home, as workers have been stranded abroad for months with no income. "If they want us to return, please hurry up [with assistance]. I am suffering here. I don’t have any money for rent or food. At least 150 [Cambodian] people are stranded in Malaysia", a migrant worker said. 

Meanwhile, media report that, in order to prevent Din Puthy, the head of the Cambodia Informal Economy Reinforced Association, from leading a protest against the ongoing closure of the border with Thailand, authorities deployed at least 25 members of the security forces to surround his home. "I have never seen any officers deployed in front of my house. This is a threat against our morals, an attempt to split our unity, and an attack on freedom of expression and movement", he said. Sum Chankea, Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, called the deployment "a threat against villagers" meant to prevent them from demonstrating and said the move constituted a violation of their freedom of speech.

India: Media report that, earlier today, the Supreme Court directed that no fare for travel either by train or bus be charged from migrant workers, adding that they will be provided food and water on their journey. The move came more than two months since a countrywide lockdown was announced, that resulted in migrants having to travel out of the cities where they worked in and towards their native villages and towns on foot. Meanwhile, another article reports that many migrant workers across the country do not expect to return to the cities in which they worked before the COVID-19 outbreak. Lokanath Swain, for example, explained that, when boarding a bus home after a 40-day wait in the Indian textile hub of Surat, he took a silent vow to never return to his workplace of two decades. Talking about Surat, Swain explained: "Nobody was understanding our problems there. My employer did not lift the phone when I contacted him to ask for my 10 days’ wages pending with him." "What is the point of returning now? My employer abandoned me. I would rather stay with my family even if I earn half of what I earned there", Swain added

Myanmar: Media report that it is unlikely that Myanmar migrant workers get their jobs back in Thailand, as the Thai government is expected to prioritise Thai nationals when reopening the economy. "Thailand will likely postpone the re-entry date and prioritise their own citizens getting jobs", U Peter Nyunt Maung, deputy chair of the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation explained. U Htoo Chit, founder of the Foundation for Education and Development, reports that about 300,000 migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos have lost their jobs in Thailand. 

27 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that garment factory owners do not know for how long they will be able to pay workers. "He told us we'll be paid 60% of our salaries for the days we missed. But he also said global orders have basically stopped, and he doesn't know how long he'll be able to keep paying us at all", Sampa Akter, a garment worker, explained. Sampa further explained that she is unable to maintain social distance during work. The interviewer stressed that "In Bangladesh, where there are no unemployment benefits, any pay cut or furlough can literally lead to starvation" and Nazma Akter, labour union president, described the situation garment workers face in Bangladesh as "No job, no money, starving, hunger."

Cambodia: Media report that, as the coronavirus crisis continues to affect the economy, many Cambodians are being forced to sell their livestock to pay off debts to banks and micro-finance institutions. The article further reports that creditor’s agents have even been visiting people's homes and demanding loan repayment, even though the National Bank of Cambodia has urged them not to do so. "They told me to pay the debt within four to five months, otherwise they would foreclose on my house and auction it", a villager from Svay Rieng province that owes a micro-finance loan explained.

As reported yesterday, more than 600 workers from the Quality Textile Co Ltd protested in front of their factory demanding their outstanding wages from last month, after only receiving $30 from the company. Media report that factory management has reacted to the demonstration by committing to pay workers their wages in instalments. Chab Sophorn, chief of Administration at Quality Textile, said that he would try to pay workers at least part of the outstanding amount by tomorrow, 28 May. 

India: Media report that, after waiting for longer than a month from the time that the lockdown was announced, migrant workers have been sent on Shramik Special Trains, where they have been for days without food and in soaring temperatures. As a result, as many as six migrants, including a four year old and one-month old baby, have died in the course of and after travelling on these trains.

Media report that, anticipating a slow down in demand, The Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI) has urged the Government to consider levying an additional COVID-19 import duty on imports of readymade garments and fabrics for a period of 12 months. 

Ireland: Media report that Mandate Trade Union has formally launched a Debenhams national strike campaign in order to prevent the removal of any remaining company assets from the closed stores and to pressurise the Debenhams parent company in the UK to pay a fair union negotiated redundancy package to their loyal staff in Ireland. Workers voted to engage in industrial action across all eleven Debenhams locations by a margin of 97 percent in favour. Mandate Trade Union members in Cork held pickets at both the Debenhams Patrick Street and Mahon Point locations.

Myanmar: Frontier Myanmar reports that the coronavirus pandemic is being used as a pretext for labour abuses. Labour activists say that they are being dragged unjustly before the courts as factory owners exploit the disruption caused by the pandemic to purge union leaders. Factory closures, job losses, poor compensations and low salaries for suspended workers have sparked protests in Yangon, where most of Myanmar's garment industry is based. In these protests, labour activists have been arrested and hasty prison sentences have been given to protest organisers. This has led union leaders to accuse factory owners of colluding with the authorities to exploit the pandemic in a bid to rid their workplaces of activist workers. Labour activists further stressed the injustice of their prosecution while factory owners, even when breaking the law, rarely face legal consequences. "In a country based on the rule of law, every citizen has to follow the law. When it comes to labour issues, the government rarely takes action against factory owners but often takes action against unionists and activists", Phyo Sandar Soe, labour activist, said. Indeed, more than 30 workers were arrested over the Dagon Seikkan protest and, more recently, 12 May 2020, the Department of Labour Relations launched labour proceedings against Moe Sandar Myint and three others for wrongful restraint, assault or using force without grave provocation, and mischief causing more than K5,000 in damage, under sections 341, 352, and 427 of the Penal Code. The worker asks why legal action has been taken against her and others but not against the Kai Cheng factory owners for allegedly breaching employment contracts and for the incident in which four workers were run over and injured. “I have a feeling that the government wants to send us a warning to stay quiet while it is dealing with COVID-19,” she said. “But we have to continue standing on the side of the workers because they have no one else to rely on.”

Meanwhile, a union organiser reports that workers from the Rui-Ning factory, which produces for Zara and where 300 fired union members have not yet been reinstated, are protesting by chanting and wearing 'No Union No Rights' headbands. 

Pakistan: The Guardian reports reports that, according to labour activists, garment factory owners are using the crisis as a pretext to lay off workers. "Most of the textile factory owners are using the coronavirus crisis to lay off workers. The crisis was already going on, but the pandemic has only accelerated it", Farooq Tariq, labour activist, said. Nasir Mansoor, from the National Trade Union Federation, explained that it has been easy for factories to implement forced dismissals because 85% of workers lack a contract: "The factories just tell the gatekeeper: ‘Don’t let this person in,’ and that’s how they know they’re fired", he said. "They were carrying out these violations before, but it was underground", said Tariq. "The labour law violations have been exposed more openly during this crisis."

26 May 2020

Bangladesh: The Guardian reports that, according to garment manufacturers in Bangladesh, Philip Day owes £27 million to their suppliers. The Bangladesh factory owners' association BGMEA reports that Day’s retail group and its agents have demanded hefty discounts, cancelled orders or withheld payment for goods already shipped or manufactured. As reported on previous days, the Association sent a letter to Philip Day threatening to blacklist the company and its associated. Fiona Gooch, from  Traidcraft Exchange, described the letter as an "unprecedented response" from manufacturers, who are under severe financial pressure because wealthy British retailers are refusing to pay up. "There are more than tens of thousands of workers in the suppliers to Philip Day’s UK businesses, and these young women and their families are at risk of becoming destitute if their wages are not paid. Philip Day is a billionaire, valued at £1.14 billion, who can well afford to pay for what he has ordered", Gooch said.

Media report that more than 10,000 Bangladeshi garment factory workers were left without allowances to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr with their families. The BGMEA announced that most of their member-factories paid workers their salaries and bonuses before Eid. Nazma Akter, president of the combined garment workers’ federation, however, announced that her organization found that even up to 20,000 garment workers 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 marginalised group of society", she said. 

Cambodia: According to news from media and the CCC network, more than 600 workers from the Quality Textile Factory, in Phnom Penh, staged a protest today demanding two months' missing wages. Chhorn Makara, one of the workers, explained that each worker was only paid $30 for April and that the factory management had promised to pay them yesterday, but failed to do so. “We demand our April wages since the company has not yet paid us. We want our wages so that we can spend for daily expense”, she said.

Media report that, yesterday, the Cambodia Labor Confederation held a meeting with representatives from sixty local unions in order to discuss the plight of workers who have lost jobs or are suspended from work in factories. Ath Thorn, CLC president, said that the local unions raised their concerns regarding the prevision that more factories will shut down and that the affected workers will face financial problems. He further reported that some suspended workers had not been paid wages from their companies and were also waiting for the government’s special aid to be disbursed. Phin Sophea, a representative from CCAWDU, urged factory owners to be responsible and pay workers their dues. "We urge company owners not to flee and pay wages according to the labour law because workers are facing hardship during this difficult period", he said.

Malaysia: According to reports from the CCC network, Tenaganita Malaysia, with partners The Refugee for Refugees, Liga Rakyat Demokratik and Dapur Jalan, has, in the last seven weeks, provided food aid to refugees and migrants in 642 locations, reaching 33,267 beneficiaries.

Myanmar: According to reports from the CCC network, the Huabo Times garment factory, located in the Pathein Industrial Zone in the Ayerwaddy Region, that produces for Primark, Vero Moda and Zara, has suddenly laid off 107 workers, using COVID-19 and social distancing measures as an excuse for the mass dismissal. On the 14th of May, the factory put up a list with the names of the 107 dismissed workers on the wall, but didn't even allow workers to look at it. The supervisors called workers in groups of 5 to 10 into the main office, where most workers were forced to sign their resignation letters. In addition, workers received insufficient compensations that only included the daily basics. Out of the 107 workers who were laid off, 26 were union members (including four union EC members) and 10% were union supporters. On the 18th of May, the factory hired 200 new workers. Union leaders reported the situation to the Minister of Immigration and Human Resources, Dr. Soe Win, and the In-Charge from the Regional Department of Labour, U Aung Nyeing, with whom they arranged a meeting on the 18th of May. The Union, Let's Help Each Other (LHEO), reports that, once there, the points brought up by workers were ignored and the Minister and officials failed to analyse the case transparently, as workers were interrogated in groups and the only questions asked to them were in regard to their resignation letters and compensation. On the 19th of May, workers met with Dr. Soe Win, where they were able to present the real situation in details. In this meeting, the Minister pledged to discuss the case at the cabinet meeting. 

Myanmar LHEO

Pakistan: Dawn has published an article noting the shortcomings of Pakistan's existing welfare system in light of the pandemic and highlight the need for expanding the country's social safety nets in a systemic way. The article stresses that the urban poor and migrant workers have been disproportionately affected by the impact of the lockdown and slower economic activity and are largely unable to access any welfare scheme. Thus, the authors urge the federal government to make policies such as insuring food security and employment for the poorest citizens an urgent priority in the coming months and years. They make clear that "The costs of ignoring current welfare challenges will be devastating for Pakistan’s most marginalised citizens unless new and ambitious public policy measures are taken."

Thailand: The Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), a local non-profit organisation promoting and strengthening the rights of migrant workers in Thailand, reports that as soon as the economic implications of COVID-19 hit the Thai manufacturing sector, migrant workers working in the sector were the first group to be laid-off and were left with no economic or social support. Workers have not received severance payment for the termination of employment or unemployment benefits under the social security system. Drawing from two examples from the garment sector, MWRN reports that garment factories in Thailand have followed this practice. A garment factory in Samut Sakhon dismissed 19 Myanmar workers at the end of March 2020 because they feared that the workers' residence status was going to expire. Some of the workers had been working for this factory for six years. Despite efforts from the employer to convince workers to submit a resignation letter, they refused. After being dismissed, the 19 Myanmar workers were left in a situation of hunger, uncertainty and fear of eviction from their rented studios. In April 2020, another garment factory, in Nakhon Pathom, announced the temporary suspension and, despite the fact that workers are eligible to receive 75% of their salary when their factory suspends operations, about 180 workers from Thailand and Myanmar, did not receive their salary. Additionally, the employer failed to enrol migrant workers to the Social Security Fund. Workers, therefore, were not able to claim their unemployment and other benefits when the factory closed. 

Sri Lanka: IndustriALL reports that the government of Sri Lanka has established a COVID-19 tripartite task-force - which includes representatives from the Employers' Federation of Ceylon (EFC), trade unions and the Ministry of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations - with the aim of safeguarding workers and employers' interests through social dialogue. The task-force reached an agreement applicable to all sectors on 5 May, ensuring payment of wages and employment within the existing legal framework, which was endorsed by the Sri Lankan ministerial cabinet on 14 May. The agreement further states that employees who are not deployed at work during May and June, will be paid 50% of their basic wages or LKR 14500 (US$77), whichever is more beneficial. In addition, employees provident fund (EPF) and employees’ trust fund (ETF) contributions will also be paid to workers.

Media report that, on 20 May, about 450 workers from the Everbest garment factory in Yakkala, that is part of the Esquel Group and employs about 1200 workers, demonstrated near the factory gate in protest against company attacks on jobs and wages. In the past weeks, between 400 and 600 workers at Everbest have either shifted to other factories or “voluntarily” resigned with a compensation package. One employee who had worked for the company for 20 years was paid a 900,000-rupee compensation package, but 160,000 rupees was deducted in income tax. Achala, another worker who had been with the company for almost three years, was paid only 138,000 rupees—six months of her basic salary—and 18 percent had been cut as income tax. Indeed, the company explained the reduced compensations by saying that they had to apply income tax. However, when workers contacted Inland Revenue Department, it denied charging income tax. 

25 May 2020

Asia: The Asia Floor Wage Alliance, an Asian labour-led global labour and social alliance, has released the second issue of the "The Emperor Has No Clothes" - a report which focuses on the issues around wage payment, support mechanisms & the lay-off of garment workers in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The report has concluded that "Patterns in lay-offs reveal how factors like employment status, spatial proximity, age, gender, union membership and religion have been used to discriminate against workers. Exploiting the excuse of market uncertainty, employers are undertaking measures that further fragment the working class. The pandemic has also highlighted the inability of the State to respond to the pandemic and its collateral effects, in terms of ensuring access to decent healthcare and food security." and that "The tripartite mechanism that is necessary to solve industrial disputes under capitalism is being targeted to facilitate business interests."

Bangladesh: Media report that, according to data from the Industrial Police, as many as 170 garment workers from 77 different factories have tested positive for COVID-19. 102 workers are from 45 of BGMEA factories, 40 workers are from 14 BKMEA factories, two workers are a BTMA factory, 14 from 10 BEPZA factories and 12 from 11 other factories across the country. The same article reports that 1258 garment factories are yet to pay Eid bonuses. Of them, 338 factories are BGMEA members, 85 are BKMEA members, 47 are BTMA members, 11 are BEPZA members and 777 others.

Media report that Remake has accused Asda of leaving factory workers in Bangladesh to go hungry by cancelling or suspending garment orders without full payment, even though its shops have remained open because of their food sales and the company is presumably making a “significant profit”. Remake explained that Asda is refusing to accept a percentage of George orders and is imposing “enormous discounts” from 40 to 70% on suppliers for a proportion of orders that have not yet been completed. Asda responded by announcing that it has a “long standing and valued relationship” with its suppliers in Bangladesh and intends to honour over 95% of its annual orders with them. Remake warned that it would not remove the named retailers until they promised to pay suppliers in full for orders that were cancelled or paused, without asking for discounts or extending payment terms.

Media report that, in the meantime, garment workers continue to demonstrate, many of them having spent their final Ramadan days protesting for salaries and allowances, as most will have no money to spend for their families during Eid-ul-Fitr. The same article reports that many factories have failed to pay workers before Eid and that hundreds of factories have shut down. "As many as 348 factories were shut in two months. The others are in trouble as well. The entire sector is in peril", Khan Monirul Alam, BGMEA spokesperson said. He further explained that most of the factories that remained operational cleared workers’ wages for the month of April with bailout funds from the government. The article further reports that "the situation at BKMEA is worse". Here, 130 were shut and, although Mohammad Hatem, vice president of the Association, did not say exactly how many factories paid off workers, he did make clear that, of the 519 factories that applied for the government stimulus, only 420 received it. 

Cambodia: Media report that, according to the Labour Ministry, 237 factories across the country have suspended operations. As a result, 110,000 garment workers have lost jobs and are now struggling to make ends meet. Chan Ny, a worker at International Fashion Royal Co Ltd, explained that her factory suspended operations in April but resumed earlier this month. However, last week, factory management announced that it could not afford to keep operating or pay wages due to lack of orders. As a result, 937 workers have been laid off. The company said that it would sell its machinery to pay wages for March, suspension benefits for April and severance pay following its closure. She explained that some workers have worked with the company for nearly 10 years and depended on the job to provide for their families. Bo Thet, a workers’ representative, says the workers are now sitting and sleeping in front of the factory’s gates daily to guard the company’s machinery. “We are waiting for a solution from the Ministry of Labour to sell the company’s machinery. The workers depend on the sales of these equipment to get their owed wages and compensation", he explained. Ken Loo, secretary general of Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, reports that, lacking new orders from brands, more and more factories are applying to suspend operations or shut down. Sieng Sambath, president of the Workers Friendship Union Federation, explained that, as some workers wait to get paid and others face suspensions, many are struggling to make ends meet. 

India: Media report that the Garments and Textile Workers’ Union (GATWU) has said that organisations such as United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), by bringing intense pressure on leading global brands, have been central to ensuring that workers are paid in factories in Bengaluru. "Wherever possible, pressure has been brought through the International League of Brand Responsibility to ensure that workers get their dues. In fact, orders that were cancelled by at least eight leading brands to garment factories in India were withdrawn after intense pressure", K.R. Jayaram, secretary of GATWU explained. Jayaram warned, however, that new orders are yet to come in and that, if the situation does not change, "the worst may start happening after mid-June. Factories without orders may close, leaving thousands without jobs."

Media report that women workers will be disproportionately affected by the Karnataka government’s notification that allows factories to increase work hours to 10 hours per day or 60 per week. In a survey conducted jointly by the Alternative Law  Forum and the Garments Mahila Karmikara Munnade between the 16th and 18th of May, 65% of workers said they won’t and can’t work for longer hours. Given that an overwhelming segment of the workforce in garment industries are women, extending their work hours will likely result in thousands of women dropping out of the workforce or being asked to leave if they can’t work the extended hours. The report, titled "Garment workers, COVID-19 pandemic and the Lockdown: A report from South Karnataka", also found, through a telephonic survey of 82 workers in Bengaluru, Ramanagara, Mandya and Mysuru districts, that: 

  • 63% of respondents reported not having received any salary for the month of April;
  • Many workers reported that full or partial salaries have been given only to those who reported to work in May and that these workers are undertaking expensive or unsafe travel to be able to reach their workplaces;
  • 96% of respondents said they received absolutely no assistance from their employers, be it in the form of cooked food, dry ration kits, loans or advances;
  • 75% of respondents said they received no free food from the government, 51% said they received no free ration from the government, 66% said they received no subsidised ration from public distribution system (PDS), and 18% said they received absolutely no assistance from the government;
  • 45% of respondents said they had to borrow money to tide over the lockdown.

The report recommends that the government set up helplines to resolve issues of garment workers, withdraw the notification on extending work hours and provide free transport services to garment factories.

Media report that Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), announced, yesterday, that any state which wants migrant workers from UP back has to seek permission from the state government and must ensure their socio-legal-monetary rights. "These workers are our biggest resource and we will give them employment in Uttar Pradesh as state government is going to set up a commission for their employment. They are our people (...) and if some states want them back, they have to seek permission from the state government", he said. Adityanath further announced that "All migrant workers are being registered and their skills mapped." He added that 75% of migrant workers who returned from Mumbai and 50% who returned from Delhi had tested positive for COVID-19. Another article reports that, since UP started mapping the skills of returnees, more than 12,000 workers have been found to be trained in garment making and tailoring. Presented with these numbers, Yogi Adityanath said that UP had the capacity to emerge as a major textile hub.

Myanmar: SMART Textile and Garments, a European Union funded project working to develop sustainable manufacturing in Myanmar's garment industry, reports that 5017 garment workers across the country will receive emergency cash transfers from the EU Myan Ku Fund today. They further announced that the Myan Ku funds are now reaching workers from nearly 100 garment and footwear factories who have been laid off or suspended during the coronavirus crisis. 

Pakistan: Media report that, according to trade union leaders, protesting garment workerswere shot at by a police officer and factory guards during a protest over unpaid wages and forced dismissals. The National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan (NTUF), which organised the protest against the behaviour of factory owners during the COVID-19 pandemic in Karachi, further reported that one worker was injured.

Sri Lanka: According to information from the CCC network the Esquel Group, supplier of PVH, continues to break agreements with the union regarding its factory in Yakkala, which is closing down. Instead of waiting for a union update, as agreed, on the amount of workers for which traveling to Ekala will be problematic, the management is pressuring workers that don't want to work in the factory 8 miles away to resign. Furthermore, there are reports that the management is not honouring agreements that workers would be rehired in the same position in the new factory.

Thailand: Media report that more than half of the almost 3 million registered migrant workers in Thailand lack state protections such as social security. Johnny Adikharee, the leader of a Myanmar Labour Union in Thailand, explained that 95% of migrant workers do not know about the benefits of social security and that, even for those who do know about it, procedures are too complicated. Suthasinee Keawleklai, coordinator of the Migrant Workers Rights Network, said that, in order to ask for compensation for lay-offs, a migrant worker not only has to ask for a letter of approval from the employer, but must also go through both the Department of Employment and the Office of Social Security. In order to get through this process, most workers would need to hire a lawyer. Sompong Srakaew, from the Labour Rights Promotion Network, urged the Ministry of Labour to improve the system in order to make it more accessible. 

24 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group (EWM) has responded to the BGMEA's letter, defending its position after the Association threatened to blacklist the company and its associates over its price negotiations with suppliers. Philip Day’s retail group, which owns the likes of Bonmarche, Peacocks and Jaeger, has insisted that it has been engaging with suppliers with “the best of intentions”. The EWM spokesperson said that “We are left with a very bitter taste in our mouth over the sincerity of this letter. We think their approach has been unproductive and uncollaborative", adding that “We have looked at literally every option on the table and worked hand-in-hand with all our suppliers to find solutions, but we also need to recognise that these are difficult and complicated issues."

Media report that Mostafiz Uddin, owner of Denim Expert, has tried to contact buyers before Eid. On Wednesday, the last business day, he once again implored his buyers to send the money they owe so that he could pay the workers before Eid. No one did. "It was like the sky fell on me. I went sleepless the entire night. I dreaded the very thought of letting my workers return empty-handed because Wednesday was all I had before the Eid holidays. And then I couldn't take it anymore. I broke into sobs because of my sense of responsibility, love and concerns for my workers", he explained. The article further reports that Western buyers haven't placed new orders in the past two months, which has put the jobs and livelihoods of around 2.8 million workers at risk. Another article reports that workers from three garment factories demonstrated protest over due salaries yesterday in Chattogram. The workers, who work at the A&B Outer Limited, Cold Play and Norm Limited in Export Processing Zones (EPZs), protested since the morning as the owners of the factories did not make their payment despite the assurance to pay salaries by 21 May. "We are not getting salaries since February this year. We are in pain for this", a worker from the A&B Outer Limited explained. 

The Dhaka Tribune reports that, today, people continued to leave Dhaka for their home towns in order to celebrate the holiday with their families, defying the government issued health and safety guidelines and restrictions on movement.

Denmark: Media report that the owner of Danish apparel company Bestseller, with brands as Vero Moda and Jack & Jones, has entered the Sunday Times Rich List, but still is not paying up on orders.

India: Media report that, according to the Centre, there are around 40 million migrant workers across the country and that, so far, only 75 lakh (75 hundred thousand) have returned home in trains and buses since the nationwide lockdown was imposed. The Union Home Ministry further announced that railways have engaged over 2,600 'Shramik' special trains since 1 May for the transportation of migrant workers from different parts of the country to their destinations. Another article reports that migrant workers travelling on 'Shramik special' trains to eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have complained of inordinate delays and unhygienic conditions on board, which have led them to resort to protests along the route by blocking railway tracks for over 10 hours and demanding accountability. Workers claimed that rotten food was served to them during the journey. "There is no water even in the toilets. What should we drink. The pooris served to us are very tight as if they were cooked four or five days ago, that is why we threw away all the food," one of the migrant workers explained. Indeed, another article reports that India continues to see clashes between migrant workers who want to return to their native places and the police. The article further stresses that the return of migrant workers to their home state is clearly not the end of their trouble, as their home states are in no position to ensure gainful employment, which was the reason why they left in the first place. Thus, in the short run, there is little for the workers to look forward to. Media reports that it is crucial to collect comprehensive migrant worker-related data and statistics in order to provide comprehensive aid, whether it is through food supplies, cash transfer, health services, shelter or transport to or from their home states. The article stresses that the information asymmetry migrant workers faced to access information on relief, benefits and transport also needs to be addressed. 

Myanmar: Media report that the Magwe regional government has allowed more than 1000 factories out of 4000 to reopen after inspections were carried out on 22 May. Daw Myint Myint Thein, region head for Directorate of Industrial Supervision and Inspection said that "this means that around 20,000 workers will get back their jobs."

23 May 2020

Global: Civil society organisations and NGOs have sent a joint letter to the International Finance Corporation (IFC) requesting information and sharing recommendations for protecting workers in response to COVID-19. The recommendations are as follows:

  1. Introduce greater transparency and civil society engagement;
  2. Integrate specific goals related to job preservation, occupational health and safety, paid sick and family leave, childcare, and other social protection in Environmental and Social Action Plans and loan documents;
    1. Prioritise preservations of jobs, including by requiring retrenchment reviews and nondiscriminatory retrenchment plans;
    2. Require occupational health and safety and social protection policies and programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic;
    3. Incorporate consultation with civil society groups, unions, and grassroots organizations throughout the project cycle.
  3. Establish an emergency grant facility for access by existing clients to benefit workers, their families and communities;
  4. Develop additional interim guidance on micro-finance institutions.

Media report that, based on a report by the Boston Consulting Group, 86% of garment manufacturers in major apparel manufacturing countries have experienced order cancellations and 40% are struggling to pay employees. The same article compared the ongoing situation the global garment industry is facing with the impact of the 2008 economic crisis and concluded that "the magnitude and scale of the problem is much more dramatic today". 

Bangladesh: Media report that the BGMEA has threatened to blacklist British clothing retailer Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM), who has cancelled orders from Bangladesh worth around $8.2M, for not paying suppliers and not responding to the call of the association. The BGMEA sent a letter to British billionaire Philip Day, owner of EWM, in this regard on Thursday. "We are blacklisting non-responsive buyers who are not only not paying but also not responding to suppliers", Rubana Huq, BGMEA President, said. The letter made clear that EWM's affiliates, including the brands and retailers Peacock, Jaeger, Austin Reed, Jacque Vert, Country Casuals, Windsmoor, Baumler of Germany, Bonmarche, Ponden Home, and various agents, importers, full service vendors and other third parties which have been working indirectly and/or directly with each of these companies and brands, are also under threat of being blacklisted. Rubana Huq further explained that the letter was written and sent in response to the need "to step up and take a stand and ensure that our terms of engagement with our buyers change for the better". A copy of the letter has been sent to the Bangladesh High Commission in London, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA), Ministry of Commerce, Bangladesh Bank and Bangladesh Investment Development Authority, where EWM/Peacock and/or its affiliates are registered as a liaison office, the British High Commission in Dhaka, and other concerned ministries or departments. If EWM fails to comply with the requirements and settle all outstanding dues as prescribed, it will be blacklisted and an embargo will be placed on the retailer and its agents.

As of today, The Dhaka Tribune reports that the BGMEA claims that a total of 48 apparel factory owners have not paid workers’ wages for the month of April and bonus on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr. Trade union leaders, however, claim that factory owners are not complying with government directives and that the number of factories who did not pay wages for April is higher than reported by the Association. “As far as I know, the number of factories yet to pay wages and bonus is higher than the owners’ data” Nazma Akter, president of Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, affirmed. Meanwhile, media report that garment workers continue protests in many factories, as hundreds of workers from more than ten garment factories staged demonstrations yesterday demanding the full amount of April wages, the festival allowance and other dues. Another article reports that the Wazed-ul Islam, General Secretary of the Bangladesh Trade Union Kendra, said that "only one day remains before Eid but around 30% of the workers are yet to receive their salaries and bonuses. They are still on the streets protesting for their due payments."

Media report that, as Eid approaches, garment workers in Bangladesh are faced with the dilemma: going home or keeping their jobs as it has been announced that workers can lose their jobs permanently if they leave their work-place areas during the Eid vacation. Mohammad Hatem, vice president of BKMEA, said "We instructed the workers not to go to their homes in villages during the Eid vacation; the government also issued a directive regarding this. This is why the workers who defy this instruction will lose their jobs and cannot re-join their current workplace." He added that "those who have already gone or are in the process of going will not get a job in this sector again". The BGMEA announced that it "a database of workers is being created" and that only the workers that stayed in their respective work-place areas will retain their jobs.

Media report that thirteen people - most of whom are garment workers - have been crushed to death when a truck overturned and plunged into a ditch in Gaibandha's Palashbari Thursday morning. Between the victims were two children, aged seven and ten. The seven identified victims are Shamsul Alam, 65, of Pirganj, Rangpur; Shoaib, 7, of Pirganj, Rangpur; Mohsin Ali, 18, of Palashbari, Gaibandha; Mizanur Rahman, 27, of Ulipur, Kurigram; Shariful Alam, of Kunia, Rangpur; Ishaq Khan of Pirganj, Rangpur; and Al Amin, 14, of Pirganj, Rangpur.

Cambodia: Media report that garment factory owners have been accused by union leaders of targeting representatives and members in an effort to reduce unionised labor on the factory floor and intimidate others from organising in future. Referring to Soy Sros, union leader at the Shuang Li factory, the article stresses that one union official has even been arrested after criticising lay-offs. Yang Sophorn, the head of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Union (CATU), said that four of her members were also terminated from the Golden Apparel factory in Kompong Chhnang province and the Roo Hsing factory in Phnom Penh for “inciting workers to commit crimes” over their unionizing on the factory floor. In addition, Kong Atith, head of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), said that “The Crystal Martin and QMI factories fired between 30 and 40 union leaders and activists" during the coronavirus crisis, noting that discrimination against workers who organise is a violation of the Labour Law. Preap Monysovann, secretary general of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) said that more than 1000 of their officials and members had been laid-off since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Meanwhile, another article reports that about 100 fired garment workers have been guarding their closed factory in shifts since mid-January, aiming to ensure that the owner does not sell equipment left inside and disappear with the money before paying its more than 1000 workers what they are owed. Sour Socheat, a garment worker from this factory explains that “Every night, we cannot sleep. We need to play [games] and sit together until early morning. Sometimes big trucks drive very fast, shaking the ground, frightening us a lot, and when it is raining, we cannot sleep here and so we go to ask a neighbour’s permission to stay under their canvas for one or two nights.” However, her biggest concern is not the lack of sleep, but that the factory’s owner will remove and sell factory equipment without compensating her and more than 1000 other fired workers for their unpaid wages. “We do not trust the company. It is very difficult for us, but we will still sleep [outside] and guard this factory until [our demands] are addressed", Socheat added. Another Dignity Knitter employee, Sao Sarun, said that she had a rented room near the factory, but chose to stay outside through recent rainstorms because she did not want to lose the compensation owed to her after spending 14 years working on the company’s assembly lines. They made clothes for the likes of Debenhams and John Lewis.

Union organiser reports that Michael Kors has failed to reply to workers who make their bags regarding the arrest of Soy Sros, a young woman union president who spoke out against the conditions in their factory and has been prison for seven weeks on company-brought charges. 

India: Media report that the Karnataka government issued a notification on Friday allowing factories to extend working hours up to 10 hours a day and 60 hours a week until August 21. “In exercise of powers conferred under Section 5 of Factories Act, 1948 (Act No.63 of 1948), the Government of Karnataka is pleased to order that all the factories registered under Factories Act, 1948 shall be exempted from the provisions of Section 51 (weekly hours) and Section 54 (daily hours), and with effect from 22-05-2020 to 21-8-2020”, the notification said.

Media report that the Indian textile industry took a severe hit as the export of yarn and ready-made garments fell by as much as 90% during April. Ready-made garments' (RMG) exports have declined by 91% in April compared to 16% in March. This is mainly due to the order cancellations and lack of new orders by Western brands, as both the US and Europe, which account for 64% of India's RMG exports, start facing recession. 

Pakistan: Media report that the Supreme Court has judged that a contract between employers and labour contractors could not be used as a device to deprive the contract workers of their legitimate and fundamental right of forming union or becoming a part of it.

Sri Lanka: According to reports from the CCC network, an Esquel Group factory in Yakkala, Sri Lanka, producing for Gap and PVH, owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, that is still receiving orders, is pushing workers to resign and forcing workers who have to stay home in order to ensure social distancing measures are applied in the factory to accept only 50% of their wages. 

22 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that around 25,000 workers from nearly 40 garment factories demonstrated in Ashulia, Savar, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chattogram yesterday, demanding 100% Eid bonus, the reopening of garment factories and partial salaries for the month of May. Many of the workers had been demonstrating over the past few days for the full payment of the festival bonus. According to the BGMEA, more than 90% of their members have paid salaries for April. The government announced, earlier this month, that Eid bonuses would be paid in full, but in two instalments - 50% before and 50% after the festival. Garment workers, however, rejected this directive and took to the streets demanding full payment of the bonus. Many demanded payment for the first 15 days of this month, saying they were facing immense financial strife in the face of the lock down. The Daily Star reports that, on 19 May, around 240 workers from the Medlar Apparels Ltd in Ashulia were suspended for their alleged involvement in vandalising factory property. The workers, however, rejected the allegation. "Although we did nothing like this, the factory authorities filed a case naming 34 workers as accused. Some 200 to 300 others were also made accused but they were unnamed," said one of the suspended workers. Soumitra Kumar, president of Garments Workers Front said that the factory authorities suspended the workers illegally without issuing any show-cause notice, explaining that they simply hanged a notice on the factory gate with the photographs of the suspended workers. He urged factory authorities to withdraw the case against the workers.

Media report that, according to a survey titled "Massive shift to Digital Wages Payments in Bangladesh's RMG Sector", conducted on May 15 and 16 by researchers working for the Dhaka-based South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM), and Microfinance Opportunities (MFO), 67% of workers had been paid as of 16 May. In addition, the survey states that 82% of the paid workers reported to have received their wages through some sort of digital channel (bKash, Rocket, Nagad, or bank transfer), which reveals a shift to digital payments.

According to reports from the CCC network, the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF)
has organised protests and demonstrations in local garment industrial zones. NGWF demonstrated against the illegal dismissal of 540 garment workers from three factories in Ashulia in the last week.

NGWF Protest

Cambodia: Fair Fashion Think Tank has published a video in which trade union leaders highlight key problems that the Cambodian garment industry is facing. They explain that Cambodia has been affected by the lack of raw materials coming from China and by order cancellations from brands. They called on brands to support workers, that are facing great risks. 

Media report that the 55,000 garment workers that worked in factories that have suspended operations will receive their $40 “out of work” monthly entitlements through their bank accounts next week. “The wage support for unemployed workers, whose jobs have been temporarily suspended, is expected to be transferred via the workers Wing Specialised Bank accounts next week”, Heng Sour, Labour Ministry spokesperson, said. 

India: Media report that migrant workers, who were working in garment factories in Tirupur, alleged that they had been locked up by their employers during the COVID-19 lockdown and were not provided basic necessities. "We were locked up in our living quarters during those difficult days so that we did not escape", Mukesh Kumar Raut, garment worker, explained. He is one of the 120 garment workers from Bihar that are on their way back home and explained that hundreds of other garment workers are waiting for an opportunity to leave Tirupur in the coming days.

Media report that, in response to the joint call given by ten central trade unions (CTUs), a nationwide protest, demanding the withdrawal of draconian changes in labour laws, was observed today by several trade unions at the national and state level. The CTUs have also submitted a joint petition to the Prime Minister via email, with their demands, including the withdrawal of total privatisation of public sector enterprises and corporatisation of agriculture. Meanwhile, media report that trade union leaders taking part in today's one day hunger strike against 'labour law reforms' that restrict workers' rights were arrested today. The Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) later reported that they have been released without charges. The first article, however, reports that a number of participating union leaders have faced arrest, including those protesting at the Raj Ghat in the national capital and in West Bengal and have not been released yet. Another article reports that central trade unions, with the exception of RSS-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) have complained to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), alleging that India has undermined the ILO Convention 144, that the country has signed, concerning tripartite consultations for implementation of global labour standards. 

Indonesia: USAS report that Kahoinda Citragarment workers producing for Under Armour say that “the victory unfortunately has not affected our fate here", explaining that wages are still being cut, holiday pay issues, reductions in workforce and lack of good faith negotiations. Addressing Under Armour, USAS said: "You verbally committed to pay orders but workers haven't been made whole on the ground. What are you going to do about this? Lives are being impacted by your lack of accountability and responsibility to the ppl who make your profits possible."

Pakistan: Media report that thousands of garment workers have taken to the streets of Pakistan, as in Bangladesh, clashing with law enforcement as they demand unpaid wages ahead of Eid-al Fitr, Islam’s largest holiday. 

Sri Lanka: According to reports from the CCC network, an Esquel Group factory in Yakkala, Sri Lanka, producing for Gap and PVH, owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, has been pressuring workers to resign, against government's advice not to dismiss workers during the pandemic. Even when the factory reached its 30% target, it continued to put pressure on workers to resign. Then, management announced that the factory would close and that workers would have to join the factory in Ekala, 8 miles away. Workers are protesting and the union is working hard to stand up for workers, but management is disregarding agreements and pressing on.

21 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that, in Dhaka, police fired tear gas and swung batons to disperse more than 1000 garment factory workers who were demanding to be paid salaries and bonuses ahead of Islam’s biggest holiday. Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA, said the workers had been paid until April, but some protesters said they had not received their salaries for three months. Some said they were attacked without provocation. Indeed, another article reports that voices for Eid bonuses, pay and work are getting louder. According to the industrial police, workers from at least 50 garment factories in Ashulia, Savar, Gazipur, Narayanganj, and Chattogram demonstrated yesterday, demanding their arrears, Eid bonuses, and salaries for the month of May. Demonstrations came to an end when workers were assured that they would be paid their arrears but will restart if these are not paid. New Age reports that workers from at least 15 factories, including 14 RMG units in Gazipur, took to the streets demanding full festival allowance and payment of full April wages.

Media report that a total of 419 readymade garment (RMG) factories - 348 registered with BGMEA and 71 with BKMEA - have not reopened since April 26. A significant number of garment factories remained closed for the last two months since March due to shortage of work orders due to cancellations by brands. Indeed, according to BGMEA, a total of 1,150 of its member factories reported that global buyers cancelled orders worth $3.08 billion followed by the outbreak of coronavirus.

Media report that, according to a report released by the Power and Participation Research Centre and BRAC Institute for Governance and Development, the income shock out of the coronavirus crisis has pulled down 77% Bangladesh’s vulnerable non-poor group below the poverty line. The extent of the income drop was 75% in urban slums and 62% in the rural areas as the unprecedented shutdown affected informal sector occupants — rickshaw-puller, maid, day-labourers, industrial and transport workers.

Cambodia: Media report that dozens of Cambodian migrant workers have tried to sneak into Thailand since Monday to seek jobs despite the Thai border being locked down. Provincial governor Oum Reatrey said yesterday about 10 workers managed to sneak into Thailand and 90 others were caught before they could do so. The Lieutenant General Leang Phearom, head of the Interior Ministry’s Border Protection Police Department, said yesterday he has ordered all police units stationed along the border to strictly monitor and prevent migrant workers from sneaking into Thailand. “I appeal to migrant workers who intend to go to Thailand to please wait until the COVID-19 situation improves and not to take risks to seek jobs”, he added. Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for civil rights group Adhoc explained that workers are crossing the border because they don’t have jobs in Cambodia and need to earn income in order to support their families. “Yes, migrant workers still cross the border illegally although they know Thai authorities have locked it down” and “We are really worried they will face imprisonment or be shot by Thai soldiers because Thailand is still under a state of emergency. We met some migrant workers and they said they don’t have jobs in Cambodia and will cross the border illegally to earn income to support their families”, he said, adding that they wouldn’t need to migrate if the government supported them in finding jobs. 

India: Media report that, according to the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI), as many as ten million workers could lose their jobs in the textile sector if there is no support and revival package from the government. The Indian textile sector is the second employment generator after agriculture in the country, employing around 105 million workers. The majority of them are migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, and other states. CMAI surveyed among its members and analysed around 1,500 responses. Almost 20% of them were thinking of closing down the business after lockdown if they didn’t receive any financial assistance from the government. The same article reports that the textile sector in India has also been affected by the decrease in raw material prices, as India is the second-largest exporter of polyester after China. Another article explains how the coronavirus crisis has affected garment workers, reporting that factories have closed and that, for some workers, that means that their last pay-check was received in April. Many of these workers are migrant workers, now trying to make their way home in order to avoid starvation. The article also reports that many faced hostile employers, who controlled their food supply and accommodation. A migrant worker from a garment factory in Tirupur explains “We did not go to work because we were afraid that we would catch the virus as we had heard of some positive cases in the district,” they said. By then, 114 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Tirupur district. “We even asked for masks but we were not given any. Our company owner came to our accommodation and without saying anything started beating us up.” The article reports many similar stories, explaining that migrants from the northeast are stuck between hostile employers and unemployment at home. 

Media report that thousands of migrants who gathered at a public ground to wait for trains - after being asked by the police to do so - were turned away this morning in Mumbai due to miscommunication between state and railway officials. The Mumbai Police told the workers their train would leave from Borivali station and asked them to gather at a public ground in Kandivali but, when they did, they were told by the police that two UP-bound trains had been cancelled and were asked to leave. However, railway officials say that no scheduled trains were cancelled today. Some workers walked many kilometres to be at the train station and have been forced to sleep on the pavement until new trains are scheduled. Another article reports that more than 800 Indian migrant workers have been stranded in Nepal after Indian border authorities denied them entry. Around half of them are women and children. Most of them have decided to go back home as they are facing shortage of food.

Media report that the government has been acting unilaterally regarding 'labour law reforms', failing to hold tripartite consultations. Ten central trade union organisations have called for a nationwide strike tomorrow (22 May) to protest against the “anti-worker and anti-people autocratic measures of the centre” and “the draconian changes in labour laws by state governments to facilitate more brutal and cruel exploitation of workers”. The article further stresses that it now appears that the COVID-19 crisis is being used as a pretext to push through the unfinished ‘reforms agenda’ of increasing the hours of work, restricting wages to the bare minimum, reducing social security benefits, permitting the engagement of contract labour for any kind of work, easing norms for firing workers, clamping down on trade union rights and whittling down labour inspection.

Myanmar: Union organiser reports that the 620 dismissed Myan Mode factory union members who make clothes for Mango, are yet to be reinstated. 

Media report that Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand, out of work and unable to access state benefits, are still on the other side of the border and that, meanwhile, many are in Myanmar looking to re-migrate to Thailand as their workplaces are starting to open. Regarding stranded migrants in Thailand, U Htoo Chit, executive director of the Foundation for Education and Development, who lives in Phang Nga in southern Thailand, said he was getting calls around the clock from distressed Myanmar workers now out of a job. “Some can't survive for all of May,” he said. “Others fear they can't even survive for five more days.” Regarding workers that are looking to re-migrate to Thailand, it is expected that, although the border remains closed to people crossing from Myanmar, the gradual lifting of restrictions on businesses in Thailand will heighten the demand for migrant labour and allow workers to cross.

Tunisia: IndustriALL reports that management at the Gartex factory, which produces ready-made clothes, is failing to apply labour laws and regulations and is violating collective agreements signed with IndustriALL affiliate Fédération Générale du Textile, de l'Habillement, Chaussure et Cuir (FGTHCC-UGTT) by dismissing 56 workers, including the elected leadership of the company union and members of the advisory committee. As attempts to resolve the conflict were unsuccessful, workers led by FGTHCC-UGTT organised a strike on 13 and 14 May, protesting against the violation of the right to organise and the dismissals. 

20 May 2020

Asia: Reuters has published an article on how the coronavirus crisis has crushed Asia’s garment industry, as brands cancel orders, demand discounts or delay payment – describing the situation in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar. Initially, most retailers cancelled all outstanding orders, but many adjusted their position in March and April after a public outcry, agreeing to pay for goods that had already been manufactured or were mid-production. To finish pending orders, about half of Bangladesh’s 4,000 garment factories have reopened, according to garment manufacturer associations. About 150 of Myanmar’s 600 or so factories have shut down, while 200 out of 600 or so are closed in Cambodia. However, most of the reopen factories are not complying with the health and safety guidelines. The article includes interviews with garment workers like Banesa Begum, a 21-year-old worker laid off from a Dhaka factory making clothes for Zara, among other brands, who said that she had nothing to send to her parents, subsistence farmers. “I know they are starving,” she said. Begum’s salary also paid for her two young brothers to go to school. “I don’t know how I’ll manage money to continue their study,” she said. “All my dreams are shattered.”

Bangladesh: Media report that, yesterday, disgruntled garment workers from Opex Apparels have poured out onto the streets of Dhaka's Kafrul to demand full payment of their salaries and Eid-ul-Fitr bonuses. The Financial Express reports that they were joined by workers from other factories, protesting for similar reasons. “The demonstrations are mainly being led by workers of Opex Group. They have been joined by workers from a few other factories”, a deputy commissioner explained. Today, The Daily Star reports that several thousand workers from at least 10 garment factories protested in the countries’ industrial belts, demanding that their factories be reopened and that their salary for May and Eid bonus be paid. In one of the demonstrations, workers had gathered in front of the factory gate in the morning, as they had been told that they would be paid their Eid bonus. However, no bonus was paid, which resulted in a demonstration. 

Media report that the number of Bangladeshi garment workers infected with COVID-19 is growing, as data from the Industrial Police said that 81 garment workers have tested positive. The BGMEA, however, still reports that there are only 20 infections among garment factory employees.

Meanwhile, media report that manufacturers associations have placed a number of demands, including continuation of the existing rate of source tax and corporate tax, to help sustain competitiveness in global markets. The BKMEA demanded 10% cash incentive against using local raw materials and 4% on imported ones for the next two years. “We need a special policy support to survive in the global market amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic”, Mohamad Hatem, senior vice president of BKMEA explained. The BGMEA demanded the continuation of existing 25% source tax and 10% and 12% (green factories) corporate tax for the next five years. The Daily Star reiterated that the BKMEA explained that small and medium enterprises were particularly affected and that the government should create an exit plan for this category of businesses in the upcoming budget.

According to media and reports sent to the CCC network, La Halle Buying Office Limited has terminated all 29 employees without following Bangladesh Investment Development Authority’s (BIDA) law or paying their dues under the Bangladesh Labour Law.

Cambodia: IndustriALL has launched an online campaign, organised by IndustriALL South East Asia office and Cambodian affiliates, with the goal of creating awareness on ILO Convention 190 on violence and harassment and Convention 183 on maternity protection. “The pandemic has significantly restricted the movement of trade unionists and our ability to create awareness on the convention has also been restrained. So we have to find creative ways to continue the campaign on ratification of C190 and C183.”

Media report that four Cambodian migrant workers have been arrested for trying to get into Thailand. The article further mentioned that one of the migrant workers was injured in the process and that yesterday three more migrants had been arrested.

India: Media report that Tirupur, India’s largest garment hub, is expecting to turn the situation around through the additional revenue coming from non-surgical and non-medical masks that the government has, since Saturday, allowed garment factories to produce. The Tirupur Exporters’ Association (TEA), Raja M Shanmugham, said “We are happy to have been allowed to export the non-surgical and non-medical masks, which came at a time when the garment industry is under stress with the exports due to COVID-19 across the world. We have been getting enquiries for masks for some time now but could not do so as the government prohibited export of such masks till Saturday. The decision to allow not only brought immense prospects to the textile industry but also will help generate additional revenue for the 1,500-odd export units.”

Media report that buses carrying over 500 migrant labourers were stopped by the police from entering Uttar Pradesh. Migrant workers explained that the buses had been arranged by Congress after they had been walking for hundreds of kms. Now, they find themselves on the other side of the border. Sources have said that the UP government was deliberately trying to mess things up in order to make Congress look bad because the list of 1000 buses had been given to the UP general secretary and they had initially been allowed to enter the state.

Malaysia: According to reports from the CCC network, Tenaganita Malaysia, with partners The Refugee for Refugees, Liga Rakyat Demokratik and Dapur Jalan, has persisted to make waves and improve lives by providing food aid to refugees and migrants in 461 locations, reaching almost 30,000 beneficiaries. 

Myanmar: Media report that, due to the government’s restrictions on gatherings of five people or more, decisions on the new daily minimum wage have been delayed at least three months. “We won’t able to meet for a discussion about the wage until at least the end of this month. A decision could be reached about three months later. We proposed a K7200 daily minimum wage, but we don’t know if it will be confirmed”, U Win Zaw, from the National Committee for the Minimum Wage said. Ma Khine Zar, a labour representative on the committee, said that employers want to postpone the discussions until September. 

Media report that the UK has allocated about US$36 million to help Myanmar fight COVID-19, with almost half the aid earmarked to support remote communities. The British government informed that the UK aid would focus on supporting those most vulnerable to coronavirus, including the elderly, health workers and communities in conflict-affected areas which are at risk of a humanitarian emergency.

Pakistan: Media report that despite government notifications and Ordinance on COVID-19 against the non-payment of wages and forced dismissals, workers continue to be fired and unpaid. The NTUF said that the movement could not be intimidated by firing workers and warned that the next call would be organised in a sit in at Sindh Assembly. 

19 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that workers from nearly 1100 industrial units are unlikely to get wages for April or festival allowances before Eid. An estimated 1,090 industrial units, including more than 600 are textile and RMG units, 437 are non-RMG units, and 41 located in the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) are unlikely to make payments to their workers before Eid. The Industrial Police predicts that these factories will face demonstrations from workers. Meanwhile, another article reports that, today, workers from several garment industries in five different districts protested for due wages and bonuses. From a factory in Mirpur, one worker explained: “The factory authorities did not even pay us our salaries in April. We demand that they pay our salary and 100% bonus.” In Narayanganj, at least five garment works were injured while protesting. Also today, New Age reports that leaders of the Bangladesh Trade Union Centre urged the government to take steps in order to ensure that the payment of wages, festival allowances and arrears are paid by 20 May, as workers cannot celebrate Eid if they are not paid their wages and bonuses before then.

The Daily Star reports that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has recommended that the Ministry of Labour and Employment close down 46 garment factories that have failed to pay workers' salaries for March despite repeated requests from the Association. The article further explained that workers that have been protesting mostly belong from these 46 factories. The Central Fund, however, explained that it would only allocate money from to factories that have been forced to shut down due to the coronavirus crisis. In this context, The Financial Express reports that the committee held a meeting on Sunday but did not make any decision regarding the allocation of funds to the 46 factories as most applicants did not meet the criteria to get support from the fund. Ministry sources further explained that none of the factories had permanently closed or relocated and that almost all of the factories are doing business. The first article reports that another meeting will be held in the next days in order to decide fund allocation to the 46 factories, a representative from the Central Fund said. Meanwhile, media report that the Bangladesh Bank has increased the loan limit for garment and textile factories from the Export Development Fund (EDF) to $30 million. This new limit will apply to members of the BGMEA and Bangladesh Textile Mills Association as the loan limit for the members of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association will remain unchanged at $20 million.

The Dhaka Tribune reports that Md Shahriar Alam, State Minister for Foreign Affairs, has suggested that the UK may take the initiative of creating a COVID-19 fund which can be used to bailout UK brands and retailers so that they can continue with their imports from Bangladesh – which would allow manufacturers to pay their workers. He highlighted that orders amounting to close to 300 million dollars have been cancelled or postponed by UK buyers, putting the livelihoods of close to a million workers in Bangladesh in jeopardy.

Central America: Media report that unions are calling on governments and brands to provide humanitarian support for 80,000 garment workers in Central America during the coronavirus crisis. 

India: Media report that the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) has called on the Karnataka government and industry bodies to strengthen laws, rather than weaken them. The AICCTU has submitted a memorandum to the state government in this regard demanding, among other demands:

  1. Strict enforcement of the Ministry of Home Affairs' order, that mandated that all employers pay their workers wages without any deduction for the period their establishments closed during the lockdown;
  2. Amend the Factories Act 1948 in order to reduce working hours from eight to six;
  3. Enact legislation that mandates the recognition of Trade Unions by establishments;
  4. Ensure permanent status to all contract, casual and daily wage workers;
  5. Increase minimum wages to Rs 26,000;
  6. Equal Pay for Equal Work;
  7. Ensure rights of workers in the management of their establishment;
  8. Take steps to strengthen the health of workers;
  9. Ensure strict enforcement of the law and strengthen the Department of Labour;
  10. Create a scheme for workers to be recognised as workers and paid minimum wages;
  11. Bring in a law to recognise domestic workers as workers and provide social security;
  12. Amend the Minimum Wages Act 1948 to mandate revision of minimum wages every three years and provide service weightage.

Media report that, reeling under the impact coronavirus crisis, apparel exporters have urged the government to treat the labour-intensive sector at par with MSMEs. In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chairman A Sakthivel, Apparel Export Promotion Council of India (AEPC), said that the sector is facing huge losses due to nonpayment of export bills and cancellation of orders and that this measure would help the industry. 

Media report that many migrants, who walked several kilometres to reach the Ramila Maidan in an attempt to secure passage on the Shramik Special trains claimed that they were beaten by the police. Almost all migrant workers said they had to reach home because they had run out of money and food had become a major cause of concern. Most of them said the Uttar Pradesh government has not provided them any help in that regard.

Myanmar: Media report that Thailand has allowed migrant workers wishing to return to Myanmar to head home despite travel restrictions and the curfew imposed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This will happen under special travel arrangements, as migrants who wish to travel independently will have to respect the curfew. Five buses limited to 21 passengers each and guarded by the Thai police are due to leave Bangkok at 10PM, followed by five more at 11PM, starting on 22 May. Only 210 passengers will be allowed to travel per night and luggage will be limited to 20kg. The government also made clear that only those registered with Myanmar’s labour attaché office will be allowed to travel. Nearly 40,000 migrants from Myanmar have registered to come home from Thailand, although estimates say that, before COVID-19, around 4 million Myanmar migrant workers were working in the country. Once in Myanmar, returnees will have to stay in quarantine for 21 days. 

Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, thousands of workers from a Denim factory in Karachi protested due to unpaid wages. As the Eid festivities approach, many workers are planning to go back to their hometown – but they have not been paid their wages. The National Trade Union Federation Pakistan (NTUF) condemns the inhuman treatment of workers, denying their right in the holy month of fasting and in the days of Eid festival. The NTUF demands that workers’ wages, bonuses and dues must be paid immediately and appeals to Sindh government, labour minister and labour department to intervene and resolve the issue as soon as possible.

Also according to reports from the CCC network, the NTUF held a demonstration today against the non-payment of wages and forced dismissals, as workers continue to be fired and employers keep failing to pay them. Nasir Mansoor, secretary general of the NTUF said that the firing of workers at Denim Clothing Mills - reported above - that produce for international brands such as H&M, is a clear evidence that the capitalists want to intimidate workers and suppress their movement. He explained that, at present, more than six million workers have been laid off, while more than 40% of the informal sector, especially home-based workers, have lost their jobs & livelihoods. He further explained that unemployed workers' families have been starving for the past three months as the relief package announced by the government has not yet reached them. Saira Feroze, vice-president of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation, said that despite the issuance of the ordinance, no notification has been issued yet on the modalities of its implementation, which has called into question the usefulness of the ordinance. The demonstrators demanded that:

  1. Immediate action should be taken against the General Manager of Denim Clothing Mills and SHO of the area for firing on unarmed workers and the police officer involved in the incident should be suspended;
  2. Payment of wages and bonuses to all factory workers be ensured well before Eid;
  3. The series of forced dismissals of workers in factories be stopped immediately & violators and be punished according to law;
  4. All citizens should be registered under social security and pension schemes.
  5. Responsibilities for the implementation of the COVID-19 Ordinance be given to the concerned departments;
  6. The police be ordered to stop intimidating the workers at the behest of the factory owners;
  7. Announcement of a special aid package for the unorganised sector, especially home based workers be made and implemented immediately;
  8. All foreign loans should be denied and this money should be spent on the welfare of the citizens especially on their health and education;
  9. In the next budget, the minimum salary be 30,000 and the current amount of pension be doubled;
  10. The health and education budgets be equated with defence spending.

NTUF Pakistan

Sri Lanka: According to reports from the CCC network, the Hong Kong-based Esquel Group keeps pushing garment workers to resign, targeting union leaders and has declared the Yakkala factory’s, in Sri Lanka, closure. Workers are currently protesting outside the factory. 

18 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that a total of 90 workers from 53 factories have tested positive for COVID-19. According to the Industrial Police, 73 out of the 90 workers are garment workers. 68 of these workers work in garment factories registered with the BGMEA, two work in factories registered with the BKMEA and another two workers that have tested positive work for a Bangladesh Textile Mills Association-member unit. The article also made clear that most of these cases have been found in the Ashulia industrial belt, followed by Gazipur. The International Trade Union Confederation Bangladesh Council (ITUCBC) said that factory owners are not fully complying with the government’s instructions regarding health and safety measures and ‘as a result, many garment workers are being infected’. They demanded that the cost of treatment for infected workers and the appropriate compensation for deceased workers must be paid by the concerned authority. New Age reports that, although most cases were reported from garment factories registered with the BGMEA, no leader from the Association was available for comments on the matter. 

Media report that thousands of workers from at least two dozens of readymade garment factories in Dhaka city, Ashulia, Gazipur and Narayanganj took to the streets on Saturday and staged demonstrations demanding 100 per cent of wages for April, festival allowances and dues of March. The same article reports that a total of 101 garment factories are yet to pay wages for March and other allowances. The Dhaka Tribune reports that, in Narayanganj, garment workers protested because the factory management had promised their wages for March and April on multiple occasions but reneged on their promises every time. Another article reports that, according to the Industrial Police, workers from 612 garment factories across the countries may start protests in the following days for not getting wages and festival allowances before Eid.

In line with what has been reported on previous days, the Financial Times reports that at a time when retailers would normally be placing orders for their Spring 2021 collections, they are instead trying to unpick existing contracts. For example, Peacocks has refused to pay for over 43,000 pairs of jeans from a supplier in Chittagong. In addition, the same supplier has been told by Topshop owner Arcadia Group that it will not be pay orders worth $2.5M. The supplier tried to contact both Peacocks and Arcadia in order to reach a compromise that would enable him to ‘save’ his factory, but neither retailer replied. Unless retailers pay for clothes already in production, he says, he will have no business to save. “[And those payments] will not happen”, he adds, “unless people understand the [scale of this] disaster.” Accordingly, the authors of the article ask the question: “Can fast fashion’s $2.5tn supply chain be stitched back together?” Mostafiz Uddin, the supplier mentioned above, wrote an article for The Daily Star in which he wrote that “Now, more than ever, is a time when the industry should stand up and start practicing what it has been preaching over the last few years and find a way to overcome the financial dilemma facing manufacturers around the globe.” Along these lines, The Dhaka Tribune has published an article on the future of Bangladesh’s garment industry, looking at the next ten years.

According to reports from the CCC network, many garment workers are waiting for medical check-up at the Youngone Medical Center in Chittagong EPZ. Already 500 workers have taken medical leave for COVID-19 suspicion. BIGUF Medical Centre

Cambodia: Mrs. Soy Sros, president of the CUMW local union at Superl Cambodia, has been arrested and imprisoned for a Facebook post criticising the suspension of union member, including a pregnant woman, during the coronavirus crisis. She remains in detention and her health is deteriorating. IndustriALL has launched a labour start campaign to demand her release. Help by signing here

Media report that, for many Cambodians, debt repayment poses a bigger threat than COVID-19, as many workers have lost their jobs due to the economic crisis, which makes it even harder for families to repay loans. This is particularly true for garment workers, as many have resorted to loans and thousands have recently lost their jobs. Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democracy and Informal Economic Association (IDEA) said that the coronavirus crisis has posed real threats to the livelihoods of informal workers, as he added that at least 80% of his association’s members carried loans. The article reports that ‘for some, this crisis could have devastating consequences, including loss of family land, [which is] often a fast track to abject poverty’.

India: Media report that the Uttar Pradesh government has withdrawn an order increasing the daily working hour limit in manufacturing units from eight to 12 hours, changing the increase to 10 hours. This withdrawal was, however, separate from the proposed Ordinance, which will abolish all 38 labour laws in the state, except safety-related provisions, timely payment of wages, minimum wages and provisions related to women and children. 

Media report that handloom weavers – most of which are home-based workers – are facing hardships as the nationwide lockdown takes a serious hit on the industry and sarees pile up due to restrictions. Many of these workers are now dependent on the government’s food supply, if they are covered by such programs, as they lack savings or have exhausted them in the two months lockdown. As a worker explains, "Due to coronavirus, all the sarees are being kept in store now. We used to export our stocks to Delhi, Mumbai and other states. But, now we can't export it. Everything is over in our life. I don't know what we will do now."

Media report that nearly 100 migrant workers in Ahmedabad have been detained by the police as they protested demanding to be sent back home. The same article reports that the police used teargas on the protesters.

Myanmar: Media report that, of the Myanmar migrant workers that have recently been deported from Malaysia, five have tested positive for COVID-19. Returnees are in quarantine centers, separated from migrant workers returning from Thailand. 

Media report that the government has announced that it will deliver cash relief for those struggling because of the coronavirus crisis. They plan to make payments to households through mobile phones and are currently identifying the most commonly used mobile payment systems, especially in rural areas. For the relief package to provide aid to those in need, lower-level administrator will need to accurately register those that it should reach.

Media report that the Export-Import Bank of Korea will provide Myanmar with a $30M COVID-19 Emergency Equipment loan that will go towards implementing Myanmar’s COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan. Myanmar estimates that it will require up to $2 billion (K2.8 trillion) in funds to implement the CERP and has been negotiating with its international development partners for loans and aid. On May 9, U Set Aung, Deputy Minister for Planning, Finance, and Industry, said 4-5 partners have agreed to provide most of the funds.

Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, workers from a denim factory are protesting in demand of their wages and bonuses. Management has reportedly locked the door in order to refrain workers from going outside to protest. They make clothes for the likes of H&M. 

Sri Lanka: According to reports from the CCC network, the Hong Kong-based Esquel group is pushing workers to resign at its factory in Yakkala, Sri Lanka, even though they’re producing in high demand. Workers and a union leader are being pressured to resign despite the fact that Esquel has reached its 30% target, as buyers are paying their orders and there are even more coming in. 

USA: Media report that, although companies are being praised for making PPE, the workers producing them are working in unsafe conditions. In Los Angeles, where more than 45,000 people – most of whom are women – are employed in the garment manufacturing industry, are now sewing non-medical cloth masks with an initial production target of five million, as part of Los Angeles’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. While the city is working closely with the ethical fashion brand Reformation, it is unclear which other companies have been approved by the city to produce masks. This lack of transparency means that advocates from the Garment Worker Center have been unable to review whether the other companies involved are in compliance with wage laws and health and safety regulations. Instead, workers are reportedly sewing masks in factories known for wage theft and unsafe working conditions akin to sweatshops. The L.A. mayor’s office has not responded to multiple requests for comment. “What we’ve seen is that the cleanliness and sanitation issues that were present prior to COVID-19 are still not being dealt with, even for mask production,” said Alex Sanchez, a field organiser with the Garment Worker Center.

17 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that the government has asked garment factory owners to pay garment workers 50% of their salary as Eid bonus before the festival and the other 50% after. This was decided at a tripartite meeting between factory owners, government high-ups and trade union leaders. This way, 100% of the bonus will be paid, but the payment will be made in two phases. China Rahman, general secretary to IndustriALL Bangladesh Council and Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation, both said that they agreed with the decision. During Eid festivities, workers will stay at their residences near their respective workplace areas, as there is no transportation. "We have no idea how this will go now. With bankruptcies, we are often left to the courts to settle our cases and it drags on for months and years," said Rubana Huq, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

Media report that, yesterday, workers from three garments factories in Ashulia demonstrated demanding their salary for April and earned leave allowance and were met by the police with batons and multiple rounds of tear gas. The general manager of one of the factories explained that they could not pay workers' salaries in time due to delay in banking procedures, as salaries for April are being paid with government subsidy money. The same article reports that workers’ leaders from at least 22 organisations formed a human chain in front of Ashulia Press Club to demand immediate welfare measures during the crisis. The Dhaka Tribune reports that garment workers also protested in Dhaka, Savar and Narayanganj demanding their due wages.

The Daily Star reports that the American retail giant JC Penney has left Bangladeshi garment exporters in the lurch after filing for bankruptcy protection on Friday. Usually, when a company seeks for bankruptcy, it pays the arrears to the employees and directors and house rents in priority basis. The payments to suppliers are not their priority. "As a result, we are guessing our payment will be delayed a lot from the JC Penney," said a local manufacturer who supplied $1.3 million worth of garments to JC Penney. The company has either cancelled orders or demanded unusual deferred payment of 180 days instead of the 90 days written in the contracts. The Dhaka Tribune reports that JC Penney has reached an agreement with existing lenders for $900 million of financing aid while it navigates bankruptcy proceedings in court and that, as part of the agreement, it would begin closing some stores permanently and would explore a sale.

Rainbow Collective has published a video on how order cancellations from major brands are affecting garment workers in Bangladesh, bringing voices of garment workers and labour rights activists. The full video can be found here.

Cambodia: Media report that the government has approved a request sent by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) for garment factories to be allowed to produce all kinds of face masks, medical equipment and protective clothing for both domestic consumption and exports. This measure comes in response to the announcement that 180 garment factories have now suspended operations and that another 60 are thought to be close to suspension, affecting the lives of around 200,000 workers. 

India: According to reports from the CCC network, the joint platform of Central Trade Unions (CTUs) held a meeting on 14 May to take note of the critical situation that working people are undergoing and decided to enhance united actions to meet the challenge. They released a joint press statement in protest of the undemocratic and draconian changes in India’s labour laws, informing that nationwide protest actions would be held in response on 22 May. The statement explains that, although the Central Trade Unions have made several representations to the Prime Minister and Labour Minister about the violations of the government’s own directives in regard to the payment of full wages to workers and the non-termination of employments, these appeals have been in vain. Similarly, all the announcements made by the government in regard to ration distribution, even meagre cash transfers to women and senior citizens, etc. have failed at the ground level, as they have not reached the majority of the beneficiaries. Now, the government is taking advantage of the situation to target the workers’ rights. As reported in previous days, the statement explained that the state governments of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar and Punjab have altered legislation that target workers’ rights and that the state governments of Assam and Tripura have been actively preparing to take the same route. “This is against the basic tenets of human rights”, the joint statement made clear. The CTUs have also decided to send joint representation to ILO in regard to the violations being committed by the government of India in regard to all the international commitments on labour standards and human rights. 

Media report that at least 30 Indian migrant workers were killed yesterday in road accidents as they tried to return to their home villages. A truck carrying about 40 workers struck another vehicle also carrying workers and their families that was parked on the side of the road in Uttar Pradesh. It is thought that the driver of the truck had fallen asleep and that the vehicle was carrying lime powder, which suffocated many of those who died. At least 25 people were killed and 30 injured. The accidents, in central and northern India, were the latest involving some of the millions of labourers left stranded and jobless by the seven-week shutdown.

The New Trade Union Initiative reports that workers from Arvind Limited in Karnataka have only been paid 50% of their wages for April, a clear violation of the Home Office’s order. They make clothes for Gap, Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation and U.S. Polo Assn. Migrant workers working for this company re being forced to vacate their accommodation and their wages for the month of April remain unpaid. The same organization also reports that Cotton Blossom Ltd. has failed to pay workers for the months of March and April. They make clothes for C&A and Guess.

Sri Lanka: According to reports CCC network organization FTZ GSEU, the Ministry of Labour held a meeting on 5th of May, with the participation of employers and workers’ unions in order to discuss the issues and challenges in continuing business while safeguarding employment of Union employees. Both parties agreed to the following proposals:

  1. To not dismiss employees;
  2. In places where all employees cannot work at the same time due to health and safety measures, all employees shall be paid monthly and on an equal basis and health and safety measures will be ensured;
  3. For employers who are forced to keep their employees at home due to lack of work, employees will be paid either 50% of their salary or Rs 14,500 – whichever is higher. Employers will also pay EPF and ETF contributions based on the said salary.

It was also agreed that the situation would be reviewed in June. Trade unions are now raising awareness among workers about this agreement and requesting that complaints be made to the unions if employers fail to follow it so that violations can be reported to the necessary authorities and solutions can be found.

16 May 2020

Bangladesh: New Age reports that a meeting was held by the Minister of Labour on Thursday to discuss, among other issues, garment workers’ Eid bonuses. Although a decision regarding the payment of these bonuses was not settled during this meeting, as employers argued for a 50% cut and trade unions fought for full payment, other points were settled. It was decided that garment workers would have the right to three days Eid-holidays and that workers would get their wages of May within the first seven working days of June. The meeting was attended, among others, by Alli Azam, Labour Secretary, Rubana Huq, BGMEA president, Mohammad Hatem, BKMEA vice-president and Montu Ghosh, president of the Garment Workers Trade Union Centre (GWTUC). Another article reports that, yesterday, the GWTUC held a rally in front of the National Press Club demanding the full payment of Eid festival allowance and all salary arrears by 20 May. They also demanded the reinstatement of dismissed workers and the health and safety of all the workers during the COVID-19 outbreak, that has already put the lives of many garment workers at risk. Another article reports that, this morning, workers demonstrated in the streets of Dhaka demanding their wages. The protesters explained that some factories owe their workers last month’s wages, while others owe wages from the last two months. The Dhaka Tribune reports that workers blocked the road in demand of their wages and dues and were assured by factory authorities that they would be paid what they are owed soon, although no clarity regarding what ‘soon’ may mean was presented. 

Media report that the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) of Bangladesh has made an appeal to the European Parliament, seeking cooperation for the restoration of orders, that have been suspended or cancelled by various European brands and retailers amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. "I urge you to take the initiatives to save the lives and livelihood of RMG workers, most of whom are women”, Dr Jafar Uddin, Commerce Secretary, wrote in a letter to Bernd Lange, member of the European Parliament and chair of the Committee of International Trade.

In line with what has been reported in recent days, media report that, since factories have reopened, many workers have felt that their health and safety are at risk, reiterating that many workers have no choice but to return to work, as they would otherwise be denied compensation. On a regular month, garment workers in Bangladesh earn around $110, barely enough to afford housing, food and other basic necessities. Aggravating the situation, garment workers will be only be paid 65% of their April wages, as factories affirm that they are unable to pay their workers due to order cancelations.

Cambodia: IndustriALL Global Union has released a statement urging the government of Cambodia to immediately release Soy Sros, union president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), and to drop the prosecution against her, affirming that “Soy Sros was rightfully exercising her freedom of speech to defend the interest of workers laid off by Superl Holdings Ltd.” and that the “criminalisation of her speech is unacceptable because what she said are mere facts.” IndustriALL also urged the Superl Holdings company to withdraw the police report, allowing the immediate release of Soy Sros and to respect trade union rights.

India: Media report that India is in conversations with Japanese and US firms that want to move out of China. The Indian government, in April, reached out to more than 1,000 US companies and reportedly offered them incentives to move to India from China. At this stage, India has earmarked lands, equivalent to two times Luxembourg, for foreign companies intended to shift factories out of China. Furthermore, as reported in previous days, India has moved to reform land, labour and taxes in a bid to lure foreign companies. The country's trade ministry has sought detailed feedback from US companies on changes needed to make the country's tax and labour laws more favourable to companies.

Myanmar: Union organiserrs report that workers in a factory in Myanmar – making clothes for Zara – are wearing red head and armbands in protest of the factory using the COVID-19 outbreak to selectively dismiss 300 union members. 

Media report that Myanmar migrant workers are struggling to return from Thailand as the Thai government’s policies regarding their return are in constant flux. Meanwhile, migrant workers face financial hardship on the other side of the border, as they have been left jobless and without income. In some cases, workers have been evicted from their homes. Aung Kyaw, chairman of the Myanmar Migrant Workers Rights Network, explained that, in April, the Thai government said that those wishing to return would be allowed to do so on 16 April, so many workers only prepared to stay for that period. But then thsi was extended to early May and now even to the end of May. As the Thai government has imposed an overnight curfew between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., migrant workers inside the country also find it difficult to make it back across the border.

Sri Lanka: Media report that Sri Lanka’s leading apparel exporter, Brandix Apparel Limited, has started the production of 200 million face masks to export to the United States. Ms. Ranga Ranmadugala – Board Member of Brandix Apparel Limited explained that the apparel industry is a key export revenue generator in Sri Lanka, generating $5.6 billion of exports in the last fiscal year alone. With the decline in trade and production output, the industry has been left facing its toughest predicament in recent times. “In this daunting background, the production of a large volume of face masks for export to the US is truly heartening”, she added. 

Thailand: Media report that the Thai government has delivered cash relief payment to 25 million informal workers and farmers in the form 5000-baht cash handouts. This policy aims to aid workers that are not covered by the Social Security funds, from which more than 10 million workers have benefited so far. At this stage, it is still unclear whether the government will extend the monthly subsidy for another three months, as cash handouts have only been promised until June. 

Vietnam: Media report that Vietnam, which is already known as China plus one manufacturing, is in the top of the list of factory relocation from China. The country is offering space to incentives and tax cuts, in order to attract foreign companies to Vietnam. In addition, Nguyễn Đình Cung, member of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Group, recently said that the government would set up a special working group to negotiate directly with foreign groups to move investment to Vietnam after the pandemic. The working group would help local and foreign companies know each other's demands. Another article reports that the government has cut or simplified at least 20% of its business procedure compliance costs, while minimising the number of legal documents related to business operations. 

15 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that leaders of garment workers have expressed their doubts regarding the BGMEA’s announcement that all the workers will get their wages for the month of April by May 20, as owners are yet to complete the process to receive loan from the stimulus package announced by the government. The senior vice-president of BGMEA said that garment factories have started receiving wages for April from 7 May and that, “hopefully, [owners] will be able to complete the wage disbursement by May 20.” When asked about the Eid-bonus, he replied that their priority now was to clear the wages. Joly Talukder, general secretary of Garment Sramik Trade Union Kendro, said she is doubtful about the commitment the BGMEA leaders made over the payment of wages by May 20. “Around 500 owners are yet to complete the process. How will they pay the wages for the last month by May 20?”, she asked. The Daily Star reports that, yesterday, garment factory owners proposed to pay workers 50% of their basic salaries as Eid bonuses. China Rahman, general secretary of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council said that "We did not agree with the proposal. We demanded bonus as per the labour law that means a festival bonus is equivalent to one-month basic payment”. China further explained that the proposal of bonus payment was not finalized in the meeting, as they would hold more meetings on the subject. Meanwhile, media report that at least 4,000 workers demonstrated inside the Medlar Apparels Ltd. factory in Ashulia, demanding arrears, annual earned leave allowance and Eid bonus. Workers said at least four of their colleagues received minor injuries when the police sprayed water with cannon and released 15 rounds of tear gas. "We were staging sit-in programme inside the factory as the authority is yet to pay our salary for April, and yearly earning allowance of last year. They [factory authority] are also yet to fix the date for paying Eid bonus”, a worker explained. "We are passing a difficult time amid this shutdown. Homeowners are not waiving rent. Even, we  wanted to accept 60 per cent salary for April but factory owner yet to  pay that," said another worker, "We will starve if we don't get paid.

Media report that Nahidul Hasan Nayan, president of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, explained that, even though most factories were implementing measures such as hand washing and taking workers’ temperatures regularly, production lines made distancing hard, particularly in small factories.

Cambodia: Media report that Pav Sine, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) has warned that the $70 government-support stipend for suspended garment workers does not cover workers who have lost their jobs due to closures, urging the government to consider a budget to provide funds for workers that have been dismissed by their factories. “Workers who had their contracts finished by factory owners are meeting more difficulties than the ‘suspended’ workers, because they have not received any benefits and now they cannot find any work,” Sina said. “I think the government should consider a budget to provide [funds] to people in all affected sectors.” Meanwhile, the same article reports that Ken Loo, GMAC’s secretary-general, explained that the Association’s call on owners of buildings where garment workers reside to lower their rents by at least 30% has not yet been answered, remaining unsure if the result will be positive or not. 

Media report that six people have been detained in Battambang for protesting outside a micro-finance institution (MFI) that they accused of failing to heed requests for loan repayment holidays. “We want the banks and MFIs to implement the government’s measures on loan repayment suspension for poor people and for workers who have lost their work and are unable to pay the MFIs and banks.”, one of the activists said. The activists explained that the police intended to scare them from holding protests, as they tried to force them to thumb print a contract promising not to hold such a protest again. Activists maintained that they had done nothing wrong and were eventually released. They urged the government to strengthen its measures regarding banks and MFIs, in order to insure that they make things easier for those suffering amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. Meanwhile, another article reports that nearly 90% of the requests to postpone or restructure loans had been approved by the Cambodia Microfinance Association.

Central America: Media report that Central American unions are launching a campaign to pressure U.S. companies sourcing apparel in the region to pay factories for canceled orders and provide a living wage until COVID-19 abates. They are demanding $1.7B in back wages and additional financial support from the US fashion brands and retailers that have canceled orders, leaving around 80,000 workers without work or pay. Top regional union Coordinadora Regional de Sindicatos de Maquila has teamed with U.S. and Canadian counterparts AFL-CIO and Maquila Solidarity Network, respectively, as well as with human rights groups, the Workers’ Rights Consortium and Belgium’s FOS, to launch a campaign to collect the funds. Companies include the likes of Target, Walmart, PriceSmart, “Target is not paying its workers in Nicaragua,” claimed Miguel Ruiz, Coordinadora’s president, adding that the retailer did not pay subcontractor Sincotex for apparel orders that were already made. “Sincotex had to close operations and Target owes them $50 million.” Target spokesman Shane Kitzman quickly refuted Ruiz’ allegations saying the U.S. retailer does not employ Sincotex nor its parent General Sportswear and that it has ensured workers in its global supply chains are compensated for their work. He did not, however, comment on whether the company would support a fund to provide workers with an additional living wage or stipend. Ruiz estimated that roughly 40 percent of U.S. brands sourcing fashion in Central America have pulled orders from their manufacturing partners, notably in March, April and May. About half of those workers – 80,000 by some estimates – have not received $150 million in monthly compensation, meaning they are owed about $450 million, he said.

India: Aljazeera reports that labour specialists warn that the decision of states to suspend federal and state labour laws enshrining workers' rights will push even more people into the informal sector, drive down wages and erode working conditions. So far, six states have decided to suspend labour laws in an attempt to help the industry recover. Under the planned labour law suspensions announced so far, working shifts in the six states would be extended from eight hours to 12 hours for a three-month period. They also want to suspend legislation guaranteeing minimum wages and the formation of worker unions for up to three years. Social security benefits, including welfare funds or provisions for the health and safety of women employees, would also be waived in some states. Bhartruhari Mahtab, chairperson of the federal government's committee on Labour explained that, while India’s 28 states can make changed to the country’s labour laws, such moves can be challenged in courts. "Some of the changes being proposed may not hold up in the courts," he said. "No attempt should be made to trample the rights of the workers (…) the industry does need to restart and therefore a balanced approach is the need of the hour." Meanwhile, media report that the International Labour Organisation (ILO), responding to the sweeping changes in labour laws proposed by state governments, has asked the authorities to ensure that all such relaxations adhere to global standards and are effected after proper consultation. “Certain states in India are moving towards relaxing labour laws with a view to revitalise the economy from the impact of COVID-19. Such amendments should emanate from tripartite consultation involving the government, the workers’ and the employers’ organisations and be compliant with the international labour standards, including the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW)”, the organization said in a statement.

Media report that, in Uttar Pradesh, six more migrants have died in road accidents while walking home and 95 others have been injured. According to The Wire, more than 400 people have died due to the punitive lockdown, a majority of them workers on their way home. Researchers pointed out that the compilation does not include all deaths that have occurred as a consequence of the lockdown and, thus, these numbers are likely an underestimate.

Malaysia: Media report that as the global demand for disposable gloves has rocketed, so have the share prices of the companies who make those gloves and that, while the executives and shareholders look forward to bonuses and dividends, the workers making the gloves have seen little reward. In Malaysia, Top Glove is calling workers ‘heroes’ while still paying them only 8 Ringgits. Only one of the company’s 44 factories has a trade union, which makes fighting for workers’ rights more difficult. Top Glove claims it is enforcing social distancing, but there is evidence that this is not the case. In a statement, K Veeriah, the secretary of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress’ Penang division said he has received complaints that rubber glove manufacturers have disregarded social distancing and failed to sanitise factories, buses and accommodation. The British Medical Association has been campaigning for years against exploitation in the medical supply chain. Dr. Mahmood Bhutta, member of the Association, said that “Our supply chain for gloves has been tarnished for years by reports of slave labour in factories in Malaysia.  It wasn’t right to treat workers this way before the epidemic, and it isn’t right now.” Another article makes clear that the same company – Top Glove – is unethically skirting labour laws by launching a scheme to get workers to work seven days a week on a voluntary basis, for a sum much lower than the standard wage. By law, employers must pay 1.5 times the normal hourly rate for off-day work. For Top Glove’s factory workers, this would amount to RM11.54 per hour. However, workers who participated in the “Heroes for Covid-19” scheme told Malaysiakini they were only paid RM32 for a four-hour day, or RM8 per hour. “I don’t feel like a hero at all”, a workers explained, who had finally decided to drop out of the scheme after working 14-days straight. “It’s ridiculous and crazy putting out this programme where workers are made out to be heroes, but they are not paid their dues.”, Adrian Pereira, director of North South Initiative affirmed. 

Myanmar: In a video, a worker from the Myan Mode factory, that was fired over six weeks ago for being a union member, along with 600+ workers, urges Mango and Zara to help resolve the issue of unfair dismissal of union members until it is resolved and not to cancel orders. The worker explained that dismissed union members are in serious economic hardship, as they are unable to seek new jobs due to the economic crisis. Some workers have even faced evictions because they are unable to pay rent. They made clothes for Zara and Mango. Workers demand that these brands resolve the issue. 

14 May 2020

Global: Media report that, according to the international Labour Organization (ILO), global unemployment caused by the COVID-19 crisis will be far worse than predicted, with 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy facing “massive damage” to their livelihoods. The ILO estimates that, in the first month of the crisis, the income of informal workers fell 60% globally, with a drop of more than 80% in Africa and Latin America, which will exacerbate already high poverty rates in poorer nations.

Forbes reports that sportswear brand Under Armour has agreed to pay its suppliers in full and on time for all orders that were in production when the coronavirus pandemic hit. “Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Under Armour continues to pay to its manufacturers the full negotiated price for all goods, both completed and in process (in process is defined as post-cutting),” said a spokesperson for the company. Ana Jimenez, USAS campaign coordinator, said that “This is a huge win for garment workers we’re in solidarity with in places such as Indonesia”.

Bangladesh: Media report that there is dispute over how many garment workers have tested positive with COVID-19. The Industrial Police says that at least 60 garment workers have tested positive since April 26. Trade unions put the figure at nearly 100. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), however, says that only 20 have been infected. Another article reports that most garment factories fell short on reopening criteria as health and hygiene protocols set out by the BGMEA and other factory owners’ associations failed to be implemented in many garment factories. Taslima Akhter, president of Shramik Sanghati Andolon, explains that “The chances of infection have gone up manifold now that the factories are running again”. Media confirms that garment manufacturers are failing to meet their own safety guidelines. According to the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, a union representing more than 100,000 workers, information from members in at least 100 factories showed that most had struggled to maintain social distancing, especially while entering and leaving. Kalpona Akter, founder of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, affirmed that “Only 20% of the factories are maintaining social distancing." The BGMEA said conditions in 492 of the 508 factories it had inspected were "satisfactory", but three government inspectors who spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation on condition of anonymity said the layout of machines in many factories made it difficult to keep workers apart. Although the situation is clearly unsafe, Mohammad Moshiur, who goes to work every day in a crowded bus arranged by his factory owner, explains that people like him have no choice but to keep working. "Do you think I would have gone to work today if I had money? Of course not," he said. "But this is the only way out."

According to the media and news from the CCC network, workers from the Four H Lingerie Ltd., based in Chittagong, that operates under 4H groups and produces for the likes of H&M, Inditex, C&A and Next, protested demanding the payment of their full wages for April, instead of the 65% accorded by the government. They further protested against the fact that management and officers were getting paid their full wages, while garment workers were not.

CTG Bangladesh

Media report that, yesterday, at least ten garment workers were injured while demonstrating at their factory in Narayanganj demanding full payment for April. The attackers are allegedly associated with the factory owners. Also yesterday, workers in Savar demonstrated in front of their factory demanding two months’ arrears and the reopening of their factory, which has been closed since 29 March. A representative of the factory said that all salaries would be paid within the following week and that the factory would reopen after Eid-Ul-Fitr. The Dhaka Tribune reports that, today, workers from the Medlar Apparels Ltd and Adiat Apparels Ltd garment factory also staged a demonstration, towards whom the police fired water cannons and tear gas.

Cambodia: The Khmer Times reports that about 1600 workers from the FMF factory protested yesterday (13 May) in demand of last month’s salaries. Chin Mali, one of the workers, explained that factory management failed to pay workers their last month’s wages and sacked 150 workers without advance notice. Ms. Mali further explained that the company, which produces bags and handbags, failed to pay compensation to the furloughed workers. The factory informed its workers that they would be paid on the 11th of May, but, when the day came, they postponed. Workers stress that they need the money in order to pay their rent and daily expenses. Cheav Sok Theng, administration chief of the FMF factory said that the factory was facing financial hardship due to cancelled orders but that it was “trying hard to find money to pay them (workers)”. Payment of wages has been postponed until the 22nd of May. 

India: According to reports from the CCC network, on 2 May, trade unions representing garment workers in Bangalore attended a meeting with Mr Siddaramaiah, the leader of the opposition party and former Chief Minister of Karnataka. This meeting was held to facilitate understanding of the status of garment workers in Karnataka and to draft a list of recommendations which would be submitted to the current Chief Minister. The main demands put forth by the unions on behalf of the workers were: job security, payment of wages, and arrangement of a mult-istakeholder meeting with the government, factory management and trade unions at the earliest. Rukmini V.P, President of the Garment Labour Union (GLU), and activists from several state and central trade unions attended the meeting. Siddaramaiah promised to prepare a memorandum with the demands at the earliest, and to arrange for a meeting with the Chief Minister regarding the same. GLU additionally submitted a memorandum of demands to Siddaramaiah on 4 May 2020.

On 7 May 2020, the Garment Labour Union (GLU) submitted, on behalf of garment workers in Bangalore, a memorandum of demands to the Ministry of Labour. This was submitted to Shivaram Hebbar, the Labour Minister, and Capt. P Manivarnan, the Labour Secretary. The main demands put forth by the union on behalf of the workers were: job security, payment of wages and to arrange for a multi-stakeholder meeting of the government, factory management and trade unions at the earliest.

GLU Covid19 lobby

Media report that about 15-20% of the over 8,000 apparel exporters in the country have resumed operation with 25-30% of their workforce. According to industry estimates, between 15% and 25% of orders placed before the pandemic have been cancelled with companies invoking the ‘force majeure’ clause and not all have reimbursed their suppliers for the material loss.

Media report that the state government of Karnataka has allowed garment units, among the largest employers in Bengaluru, to operate with one third of their workforce. The Industries department is also working with them to get them to make face masks in large numbers. “We are trying to re-purpose garments, electronic and automobile units to see that they churn out healthcare related stuff such as masks, PPE gears and ventilators to ease the supply issues” Gaurav Gupta, Principal Secretary of the Industries Department explained. This article also reports that several factories have failed to pay April’s salaries to their employees. The government says that it is working on the situation, in order to help struggling industries pay salaries and other dues.

According to the New Trade Union Initiative, garment workers from the Gokaldas Exports company have only been paid 50% of their April wages. They produce for the likes of H&M, Gap, Decathlon, Nike and Columbia.

Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, today, a two-member bench headed by Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar heard the constitutional petition filed by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and the Democratic Workers Federation, in Sindh High Court, against the forced dismissals and non-payment of wages. The case has been postponed until 18 May for the next hearing. Employers are of the opinion that they are not legally obligated to provide wage, salaries and protect employment during the lockdown.  The workers, however, are of the view that the decision taken by the government in the light of the circumstances is legal in accordance with the law on extraordinary circumstances during an epidemic. A large number of workers, including women, attended the court proceedings. A woman worker who was forcibly dismissed from her job addressed Justice Mazhar directly in the court and said that her 9-year service terminated illegally without any notice. Like others, she seeks justice.

Pakistan NTUF petition filed

13 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that only 997 factories, out of 7,602 units under the jurisdiction of the Industrial Police in six industrial zones across the country except Dhaka Metropolitan area, had, as of yesterday, paid April's wages. Wages of April remained unpaid in 1,710 factories that are members of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, 1,062 member factories of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, 368 units of Bangladesh Textile Mills Association, 156 units under Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority and 557 non-RMG units. The same article reported that a total of 60 workers in 37 factories have tested positive for COVID-19, confirming that numbers are going up. 

An article by The Guardian reports that workers in garment factories have said their lives are being put at risk as they are forced to return to work in cramped conditions where mask-wearing and physical distancing are not enforced. Although directives by the Bangladesh government stated that factories could only open if they followed health and safety measures, workers from garment factories in the industrial areas of Gazipur and Ashulia said that the only new measure was hand washing at the entrance. In addition, they travelled in overcrowded to get to work. Many said they had been worried about returning to the factories, but had no choice, fearing they would lose their jobs. “We resumed working last Sunday and, on the first day, there was no change in the factory. I saw in the news that they promised protective gear like masks and social distancing, but our factory didn’t give us anything. We paid for masks from our own pocket”, a garment worker from Ashulia explained. Another garment worker warned that “People are falling sick even inside the factories during work hours. But the management tells us that everything is safe and completely under control, which is a blatant lie.” As Sarwer Hossain, a workers’ rights leader based in the Savar district of Dhaka, made clear, the decision to reopen the factories without enforcing proper safety measures is putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of garment workers, their families and communities in grave danger. Another article lays out how fashion brands can help:

  1. Brands should ensure that their contracts with suppliers are honoured and existing orders are paid in full;
  2. Brands need to work with Bangladeshi factory owners to implement guidance on how to keep workers safe;
  3. Brands should ensure safety measures are actually implemented, by providing technical assistance and, where needed, financial support.

Cambodia: According to reports from the CCC network, in a case of Freedom of Association and Freedom of Expression violation, a local union president from the Superl factory has been imprisoned under false charges for posting on Facebook condemning the planned dismissal of workers, including a six-month pregnant woman, by the factory management against the advice of the Cambodian prime minister. Superl produces for brands Michael Kors and Kate Spade. Mrs Soy Sros, local union president, made the post on 31st March, following the news that approximately 100 workers were going to be dismissed under Covid-19 retrenchment. On deleting the post but refusing to sign a document admitting to posting fake information with the aim of defaming Superl, Mrs Soy Sros was detained by police. She has been in prison since 3rd April and, under new charges of Provocation to Commit Discrimination, she faces up to three yeas in prison and a maximum fine of six million Rials (approx $1,500). The workers have subsequently not been dismissed, however Mrs Soy Sros continues to be detained. 

Central Cambodia reports that more than 1600 workers from the FMF Manufacturing Co Ltd., that work for Michael Kors, are on strike, demanding their unpaid wages. 

Media report that, according to the Ministry of Interior, more than 90,000 migrant workers recently returned from Thailand during the Khmer New Year holidays and are now unable to go back to their jobs due to Thailand’s ongoing lockdown. The same article reports that about 14,000 migrant workers that were under quarantine in Battambang have been cleared, testing negative for COVID-19. 1000 migrant workers returning from Thailand remain self-quarantined in the area.

Media report that the Cambodia Microfinance Association (CMA) said that it had provided some form of relief to 118,000 borrowers but failed to explain what actions has been taken. Of the 137,000 people that had requested loan relief, 118,000 had been provided relief in the form of loan restructuring, interest payment deferrals or postponement of all payments. However, there was no breakdown or details of exactly what relief had been provided, only that $488 million in loans had received some form of relief. A report from a local NGO shows that there are around 2.6 million micro-loan borrowers with $10 billion in total debt. Despite the CMA’s unclear relief actions, it is clear that garment workers continue to be affected by loan repayments, as around 200,000 garment workers have lost their jobs or are facing work suspensions and still have to make loan repayments.

Malaysia: Media reports that Malaysia has deported nearly 400 undocumented Myanmar workers. Prior to being deported, they had been detained in immigration detention centers across the country. U Aung Zaw Min, labour attaché at the Myanmar Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, explained that there are still many detainees from Myanmar in Malaysia’s immigration detention centers waiting for citizenship certificates from the Myanmar government or to be interviewed by representatives from the Myanmar embassy. He further explained that the workers spent several months in the detention centers and were deported in part because Malaysian authorities are accelerating arrests of illegal foreign workers and need more space in the detention centers. A Kuala Lumpur-based group that works on Myanmar migrant rights issues said that “All undocumented Myanmar nationals need to be sent home urgently because the Malaysia government is now accelerating crackdown operation against undocumented foreign workers”.

Myanmar: Media report that, according to the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM), more than 6,300 garment workers in Yangon have lost their jobs. “According to our list, 13 factories have closed, and 32 factories have downsized due to supply shortages. And the owners of two factories have fled and their employees were left unpaid,” said Ko Soe Thet, from the CTUM. He added that at least 10 more factories have reduced their workforce in May but have not been added to the list yet. According to the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, 100 factories have closed or reduced workforce. They explained, however, that, based on these numbers, it is hard to know how many workers have lost their jobs, as factories have a workforce of 100 to 7000. The Ministry further stated that it was ensuring that dismissed employees would receive redundancy payments and social security compensation; this will, however, only cover registered workers.

Union organiser reports that Kyaw Myo, All Burma Federation of Trade Unions’ General Secretary, has been sentenced to three months prison for the Blue Diamond bag factory strike, where workers demanded COVID-19 health and safety measures to be ensured. 

Media report that Myanmar’s five million micro-finance borrowers will resume repayments on May 15, even though many are now jobless or on reduced incomes. This is the case of many garment workers. Ko Zaw Zaw Aung, general manager at the Kyauk Sein footwear factory in Yangon’s South Dagon Industrial Zone, explained that many of his employees were calling him in order to find out when they would be paid their April salary, mostly because they had looming repayment deadlines on loans taken from micro-finance companies and non-bank financial institutions that offer credit. He estimates that more than half of Kyauk Sein’s 1,300 workers owe money. “If I cannot repay my loan on time I will be in trouble with the company I borrowed the money from,” said Ma Win Lei Cho, a factory worker in Yangon’s western industrial suburb of Hlaing Tharyar. 

Pakistan: Media report on how COVID-19 is affecting home-based workers, that are doubly marginalised. Workers explain that all their work has stopped. Faced with several fixed costs such as rent, food and school fees for their children, home-based workers can only hope for some kind of relief. However, these workers do not have social protection and they are engaged with enterprises which are not registered themselves. Even in regular circumstances, these workers do not earn enough to help them have a decent living, but, ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, their lives have taken a turn for the worst. A home-based worker explained that she tried to contact several welfare organizations and even tried to apply to the government’s support schemes, but that both attempts had been in vain. 

Sri Lanka: Media report that, following an agreement between the Government and the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC), private sector businesses will pay their employees on a prorated basis. Employees will be guaranteed the minimum salary of Rs. 14,500, even if they were not required to report to work. The employer is required under this system to pay such an employee 50% of the basic salary or Rs. 14,500, whichever is higher. If the employee was required to report to work or work from home for only a week in that month, he or she would be entitled to 25% of the total salary, including allowances. However, in addition to this, the employee would also be entitled to either 75% of Rs. 14,500 or 50% of what his or her basic salary would be for a three-week period. The goal “is to encourage the private sector to employ the workers as much as possible or to use them on a roster basis. (…) This is for companies that are struggling to start their business and for those that are working below full capacity. In that case, it is unfair to expect them to employ their full staff.”, the commissioner General of Labour explained. 

Thailand: Media report that garment workers from the Nakhon Luang Thugthao Nylon Co factory have petitioned the Labour Ministry to take action against their factory for allegedly failing to pay contributions to the Social Security Fund (SSF), making them ineligible for state financial help. Surin Pimpa, the company’s worker union president, explained that some workers seeked retirement compensation and hoped to receive about 30,000 baht from their SSF contributions to the pension fund, which they need to survive. They have been unable to claim the money because the company apparently failed to make payments to the SSF. One migrant workers complained that she was forced to borrow money in order to cover her expenses. Labour Protection and Welfare Department chief Apinya Sujarittanan said an investigation into the SSF contributions and other financial issues was underway.

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It’s high time to consider what the #Covid19 pandemic is doing to garment workers’ livelihoods in #Bangladesh. After brands cancelled orders and the government ordered a lock down in March, many workers were sent home without knowing when they'd be paid. Workers returned to their factories early April hoping that they'd receive their March wages, but most were sent back at the gate; some were even dismissed. Workers started to protest to demand their wages and speak up against dismissals. Having to wait for your overdue paycheck is bad for everyone, but especially if you're living hand to mouth on poverty wages that never allowed you to save for a crisis. By mid-May workers of at least 100+ factories still haven't been paid for March. For other workers the struggle for the April wage is next. Ignoring most labour leaders’ voices, the government of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer and Exporters’ Association decided that workers will only be paid 60% of their April wage. If you're already struggling, a 40% reduction means going hungry. Workers continue to protest for the 100% wage they need to survive, while workers of over 1500 factories still haven’t received April's wage at all. Workers don't know whether and when they'll be paid their May wages and the Eid festival bonus due at the end of Ramadan. To make sure workers don't pay the price for this crisis 👉 Brands, including @Asda, @asos, @gap, @Sears,, @topshop, @urbanoutfitters must #PayUp for orders & beyond that ensure that all workers making their clothes before the pandemic are paid 👉 The government of Bangladesh must make haste with disbursing its promised aid packages through transparent means & not allow for any wage cuts or dismissals 👉 Factory owners & the BGMEA must ensure workers are paid their full wages on time No longer can the the price for the crisis be carried by those who already have the least. 📷Zabed Hasnain Chowdury/Shutterstock

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12 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that a group of workers from Ireland that was recently made redundant by Debenhams has set up a Go Fund me page for staff in Bangladesh. They have started their own account, exposing the company’s behaviour towards its employees. In a statement the workers said they were shocked at the callousness shown by the company to their employees in Bangladesh. "We are very saddened to hear our colleagues have been left with nothing considering there is no unemployment benefit in Bangladesh.”, the statement said. Meanwhile, a spokesman for former Debenhams staff in Bangladesh said that he was heartened by the support shown to them by strangers thousands of miles away. "I'm overwhelmed while I see your initiatives and how humanity is still alive. You don't know us. None of us visited Ireland ever. But you feel our team members pain from thousands of miles away”, he explained. 

Media report that demonstrations across the country persisted yesterday (10 May) in demand of full wages for the month of April or, in some cases, for March’s unpaid salaries. According to the Industrial Police’s data, 370 factories still haven’t paid March’s wages to their workers. Out of the 370 factories, 118 are garment and textile units. This article provides an overview of the demonstrations from the last few days.

Meanwhile, The Daily Star reports that COVID-19 cases keep increasing in the industrial belts of Ashulia, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chattogram. As of yesterday (11 May), at least 58 garment workers from 35 different garment factories had tested positive. This number keeps increasing, as it was said to be 43 on Sunday (10 May). Another article, however, reports that labour leaders put the figure at 96. Media report that the BGMEA refutes these claims. When asked about the reopening of factories and the rise in COVID-19 infections among garment workers, Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, said "We have messed it up". The factories were supposed to reopen in phases and zone-wise, not haphazardly. However, this was not what happened. In terms of auditing, the first article reports that, according to the BGMEA, 461 factories had been audited by 10 May. The health and safety measures and working conditions were found satisfactory in 447 of those factories. The remaining 14 factories, which required improvement, were asked to come up with immediate corrective action plans to continue operation. 

Media report that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has signed an agreement with a company that will provide free services to help prevent and limit the spread of COVID-19, while also addressing general medical and mental health related issues amongst ready-made garment (RMG) workers. Garment workers will have access to the Maya app, where they can ask unlimited questions about physical and mental health concerns and receive digital prescriptions when needed; to a toll-free hotline; to toll-free SMS; customised dashboard; and monthly reports. The company will provide real-time data for BGMEA and factories on how COVID-19 is affecting garment workers.

The Dhaka Tribune reports on the challenges trade unions face while organising under lockdown. Trade union leaders have been trying to play an active role in negotiating with owners, associations, the BGMEA and the government to ensure worker safety, job security and wage payments and some have been able to obtain positive results. However, negotiations during the COVID-19 outbreak are even more challenging than negotiations tend to be, as the situations tend to be more urgent and certain actions cannot take place under lockdown.

Cambodia: Media report that Far Saly, president of the National Trade Unions Coalitions, warns workers have been increasingly concerned with the massive layoffs and furloughs amid the pandemic. “The union is concerned with how the government can help the affected workers as more lose their job in the wake of the coronavirus,” he explained. 

The Khmer Times reports that the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU) has called on the Ministry of Labour to intervene in the reinstatement of three of its union activists who were previously fired by the Roo Hsing Garment Co Ltd.

India: Media report that the Joint Committee of Trade Unions (JCTU) organised a protest yesterday (11 May) in front of the Kousalya Bhavan, Labour Commissioner Office in Bangalore against the proposed decision to exempt implementation of labour laws in Karnataka and increase working hours to 12 hours a day. The BJP-led government in the state plans to ease the existing labour laws to help the employers in the name of economic development. In response, the JCTU noted that eight hour working days and right to stable employment are hard-won rights of the workers, that must be respected. Another article warns that the state governments’ labour law reforms could lead to higher exposure to occupational health and safety risks and no appropriate protection for workers. 

Media report that India’s industrial output contracted sharply in March 2020. According to data released by the government, the manufacturing output has reduced by 20.6%. This article also reported that around 121.5 million workers have lost their jobs in April.

Media report that, although the Congress government in Rajasthan announced that it would pay the fare for stranded migrant workers to return home through special trains, migrant workers have been charged Rs 675 per passenger. The Barmer district authorities assured that no money was asked of workers. “We have asked the companies, not the workers, to pay for the railway ticket. We assure you that no worker is being charged and if any company has cheated the workers, strict action will be taken against it”, a Barmer collector said. However, migrant workers travelling on the special train on Sunday (10 May) revealed that contractors collected the stipulated amount from them. “We had some amount left from the last salary that we had received in March, so when the contractor asked for payment of the ticket, we paid him in cash.”, a migrant workers explained. As per the latest press note released by the state government, over 8,12,423 migrant workers have registered themselves on the government portal to reach their homes in other states, while only 91,398 migrant workers have been sent so far.

New Age reports that five migrant workers have died in an accident, as they hid between hundreds of mango crates. The truck they were travelling in fell sideways late Saturday on a highway in Madhya Pradesh’s Narshingpur district, crushing those onboard. Their deaths came two days after 16 migrant workers on their way home to central India died when they were run over by a goods train in western Maharashtra state as they slept on the track. Another article stated that "a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in India as thousands of migrant workers are trying to return home". It reported that, as of 3 May, 42 migrant workers had died in road accidents while trying to return home and that only a few state governments have extended relief measures for stranded migrants such as free rations or cash transfers. The article ends on the note that "The prospect of life with dignity and safety of the millions of migrants returning home looks distant."

Pakistan: According to media and news from the CCC network, workers protested yesterday (11 May) due to the non-payment of wages and the forced dismissal of thousands of workers, which is a blatant violation of government proclamations. The demonstration was attended by a large number of workers from various industrial enterprises that were chanting slogans in support of their demands. Addressing the protesters, Nasir Mansoor, Secretary General of the National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan, said that forced dismissals of workers had become the norm, stating that around 6 million workers had lost their job. At present, more than one crore working families are at verge of abject poverty and starving, he added. He further claimed that some employers are taking undue advantage of the crisis by firing workers who have been employed for decades under the guise of corona and forcing them to work as precarious workers under the illegal contract system. Abdul Basit Jagrani, General Secretary of the Textile and Garments General Workers Union, said that the governor of Sindh had rejected the ordinance to give legal protection to the notification in respect of protection of jobs and wages. Zahra Khan, General Secretary of Home Based Women Workers Federation, said that the government, institutions and factory owners have failed to protect the basic rights of the people, especially the workers, and that international brands are also playing a criminal role. “The direct responsibility lies with the brands and the western countries”, she affirmed. At the demonstration, the workers demanded:

  1. That forced dismissals of workers be prevented in all institutions;
  2. That payment payment of salaries and wages during lockdown be ensured;
  3. That the government take steps to give legal protection to the notification of protection of wages and jobs during lockdown;
  4. That the Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners be empowered to deal with the grievances of the workers on matters of wages and employment;
  5. That all citizens be registered under the Social Security and Old Age Benefit Schemes;
  6. That brands withdraw the decision to cancel the running orders while abandoning the inhuman approach to deal with the billions of workers; 
  7. That voices be raised at the international level for the cancellation of all foreign debt and this money should be spent on public welfare projects;
  8. That health and education budgets be equal to defense expenditures.


11 May 2020

Bangladesh: The Daily Star reports that, in Gazipur, several thousand workers from two factories have demonstrated for two consecutive days demanding full salary for April, instead of the 60% accorded by the government. Workers said that they would accept the government’s decision regarding April’s salary if their house rent was waived by 40%. 

Another article explains that local suppliers are being held hostage by clothing brands, which are forcing manufacturers to sell their wares at a lower than agreed upon price. Mostafiz Uddin, the managing director of Denim Expert Limited, published an article in The Daily Star, calling on the garment industry to, collectively, establish a payment system that is endorsed by international agencies and is respected by all participants, as the current system is an “unhealthy bias in favour of the buyers”.

Media report that garment factory owners are calling for a full waiver on the detention changes levied by the shipping lines for holding containers beyond the "free period". The Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has requested the Chattogram Port Authority to instruct shipping lines not to impose the charges and refund the money that has already been realised.

Cambodia: According to reports from the CCC network, the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training authorized Roo Jsing Garment Co., Ltd. to terminate three Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU) members from employment without referring to any clear evidence. The Department of Labour Disputes has authorised Roo Hsing to terminate Mr. Ek Sarun, Vice-President of the local factory union, Mr. Sok Kong, Secretary of the local factory union and Mr. Kon Soch, an assistant shop steward and a local union activist by alleging that the three CATU members met together to form a plan to stop work together on 9 April 2020 in order for the company to allow workers to go home during Khmer New Year. In a statement, CATU explained that: “Since the time that the company requested to suspend the employment of the three workers above, our local union affiliate has attempted to meet with the company in order to discuss and resolve this case. However, the company has continually refused to meet with us.” The Alliance further explained that these terminations will have severe effects for these three workers and urged the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training to rescind the Department of Labour Disputes’ decision in order to allow these three CATU members to continue their work at Roo Hsing. CATU also called on brands’ and local trade unions’ support.  

Media report that more than 600 workers from the SEPIA garment factory in Phnom Penh protested today in front of their factory, demanding their missing wages. A worker explained that the company had promised to pay workers on 9 May, but that no one had been paid.

Media report that factories have expressed their support to the Garment Manufacturing Association in Cambodia’s (GMAC) appeal for lower rental fees within a period of three to six months. Kong Sambat, chief of administration of the SEPIA garment factory, which has failed to pay its workers, seconded GMAC’s appeal, saying that factory owners are “left strapped for money to pay for their rental fees”. Another factory owner explained that, although the company could still afford this month’s rent, the same might not apply to the coming months. He said that lower rental fees will help in allowing factories to continue operations and prevent more factory workers from getting furloughed.

The Khmer Times reports that the Ministry of Labour announced that it will provide soft-skills training for suspended garment workers. The workshops are required for furloughed workers to receive full government allowances. On Friday (8 May), the Labour Ministry launched training for more than 400 suspended garment workers. Prak Chanthoeun, a secretary of state of the Labour Ministry, said the ministry-led training courses seek to increase the capacities of the workers while guaranteeing their receipt of allowance from the government, which amount to 20 percent of their wages.

India: Media report that Muslim workers from the Richa & Co. factory have alleged that they were turned away on religious grounds. On Thursday (7 May), workers claimed that they were not allowed inside, but that their Hindu colleagues were taken in. The company, however, denied the allegations made by the workers, saying that it had a large Muslim workforce and had never imposed religion-based restrictions. Workers claimed that at least 50 Muslim workers were turned away.

Media report that more states are likely to follow the three states that have already relaxed their labour laws in response to the country’s deteriorating macroeconomic situation. The motivation to revise labour laws is driven by the desire to attract foreign capital and manufacturing firms, particularly the ones shifting base from China. Another article explained that these alterations have been described as reforms. But can you actually use the word “reforms” to describe Uttar Pradesh’s actions under Chief Minister Adityanath? To attract investment, Adityanath is giving businesses and factories in his state a three-year regulatory holiday. Laws connected to industrial disputes – including over layoffs and compensation – and the working conditions of workers, health and safety mandates, maintenance of facilities like drinking water, canteens, rest rooms and crèches and inter-state worker regulation are all defunct for the next three years. Quartz India lays out a summary of the various changes introduced by states. Uttar Pradesh has suspended all but four labour laws for three years. Gujarat has done the same by suspending all but three labour laws.

Myanmar: Media report that more than 60 hostel owners from Yangon’s industrial hub in Hlaing Tharyar Township have offered free accommodation or reduced charges for nearly 1200 factory workers affected by factory closures. In Yangon, most garment workers live in hostels and pay between 40,000-100,000 kyats (US$29–71) per month for tiny rooms that are shared between up to four people.

Thailand: Media report that the private sector, particularly those related to tourism and supply chains, is calling on the government to continue easing its lockdown measures to allow other businesses to restart to curb escalating unemployment. The Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking estimates that about 7 million workers will be out of a job by June because of shutdowns from the pandemic, with most of the layoffs affecting low-paid workers.

Vietnam: Media report that companies are shifting from China to Vietnam due to restrictions implemented in response to the COVID-19 outbreak by the Chinese government, adding that the government must insure that workers’ rights are not compromised in the process. 

10 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that garment workers organized a demonstration in Mirpur this morning, demanding the full payment of their wages. “The owner wants to pay us only 60% of the arrears of last month. How will we take care of our family expenses with this money?”, a garment worker explained. The Daily Star reports that, yesterday (9 May), at least 10,000 workers of 14 garment factories in Savar and Gazipur industrial belts demonstrated demanding full payment of their gross salaries for April as opposed to 60%. The workers said they did not agree with the government's decision to cut the pay of those who could not join work amid the shutdown as many factories were closed and there was an acute crisis of transport as well. In Gazipur, police used tear gas water cannons to disperse the protesters. 

Media report that an eleven-member monitoring committee, including three representatives of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), has been formed to overview garment workers’ health and to ensure that their salary, as set by the government, is paid.

Media report that the BGMEA has requested all its members not to dismiss any worker in the month of May. The same article reports that, according to the manufacturers association, the Trade Union Centre (TUC) have come to an agreement for providing 60% of gross salaries to the workers who weren’t able to work in April. Involving the same Association, The Dhaka Tribune reports that the BGMEA has appointed two technicians at its Ashulia Health Center to provide health service to garment workers during the COVID-19 outbreak. Workers can now report at the Ashulia Health Center if they need to undergo COVID-19 testing. They will also be provided with health advice on their test reports from the same health centre. Sample collections will begin on the 13th of May and will operate from Saturday to Thursday from 9AM to 1PM.

A column in Forbes explains how order cancellations and discounts negotiated by brands are affecting factories and workers in Bangladesh. If factories, who have to pay for the fabric they used as well as the workers, do not get money, many will go under. Factory owners are often afraid to speak up as they do not want to risk future orders of the same brands. Factories are owed a staggering $5 billion for orders, most of which are already completed and shipped. The article points out that, according to WRC’s brand tracker, 13 large brands and retailers have committed to pay their orders in full, but that “the list of brands that have cancelled or have asked for discounts and delayed payments is much longer”. The article names Gap and Asda as two companies cancelling orders and negotiating discounts.

India: Media report that recent COVID-19 cases in rural areas have been linked to migrant workers returning home from various urban areas across the country. This realisation has caused panic among health experts, as, until now, nearly 80% of the cases recorded had been seen in urban areas. The article also reported that Surat, a textile hub in Gujarat, has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in the State, being described as “one of the biggest centres of COVID-19 for migrant workers”. Another article reports that, as of today, a total of 366 trains with over 360,000 migrant workers have run, in order to allow stranded migrant workers to return home. Of these, 287 trains have already reached their destinations and 79 are still in transit.

Media report that Varanasi’s textile industry, that relies heavily on the wedding season, has seen many of its potential clients postponing their weddings or making them a modest affair, which has affected sales. Traders say that even if the lockdown is lifted after 17 May, it will take them at least three months to a year to resume normal functioning. “Even as other sectors will slowly start becoming functional, for us things will not change much as marriage season is already over", Vaibhav Kapoor, vice-president of the Varanasi’s Silk Trade Association explained. The Uttar Pradesh Vyapari Kalyan Board sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging the government to take drastic steps to save the garment industry in the area. 

Indonesia: Media report that the Manpower Ministry has released a circular allowing companies to pay their workers’ holiday bonuses (THR) in instalments or even delay them for an agreed period of time, in case they are facing financial hardship. Critics have said, however, that this decision may violate workers’ rights as it gives grounds for businesses who are fully capable of paying the THR to defer bonus payments. “Employers already have strong [bargaining power in negotiations] without the circular. With the circular, workers will now be increasingly oppressed”, Hadi Subhan, labour expert from the Airlangga University said, calling on businesses to be transparent about their financial situations. Said Iqbal, president of the Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions (KSPI), argued that the option to defer should only be given to small and medium enterprises. “We must reject the ministry’s circular. Employers must provide 100% of their employees’ holiday bonuses. Providing less than full holiday compensation or releasing the funds in instalments is simply out of the question,” Said Iqbal said. 

Myanmar: Media report that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counsellor, said that factories across the country must be closely monitored, even after passing the COVID-19 inspections. “After allowing them to operate, I'm worried that [if] these factories and workshops cannot follow social distancing, wear masks and operate within health guidelines, they will spread COVID-19”, she said. “If one is infected, many will suffer. Some factories have thousands of workers. If one is infected, it will be a massive problem”, she added. The same article reports that authorities have inspected over 2600 factories in Yangon, but that only about 850 of these had been allowed to reopen, as the remaining will have to make adjustments in order to ensure that they comply with the new regulations. Ma Moe Sandar Myint, acting head of the Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar, said that the Federation will make a list of factories that ignore government regulations. 

Vietnam: Media report that Pou Chen, a Taiwanese firm that makes footwear for the likes of Nike and Adidas, has laid off a group of 150 Chinese workers who moved to Vietnam to help set-up new factories in the country. The workers exclaimed that the company used COVID-19 as an excuse to dismiss them. “Now, when the factories over there have matured, and there is a higher automation level in production, our value has faded in the management’s eyes and we got laid off, in the name of the coronavirus pandemic.”, Dave Zhang, who started working for Pou Chen in Vietnam in 2003, explained.

9 May 2020

Global: Hesperian Health Guides have translated their COVID-19 fact sheet into a total of 28 languages. The 28 languages are: Afaan Oromoo, Amharic, Arabic, Bangla, Chinese, English, Farsi, Filipino, French, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Kinyarwanda, Indonesian, Lao, Malay, Malayalam, Marathi, Nande, Portuguese, Sindhi, Shona, Spanish, Swahili, Tamil, Telugu, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese. All the fact sheets can be found here.

Bangladesh: Media report that garment workers of several factories in Savar and Gazipur demonstrated today, demanding full salary for April and May. "Workers took to the street, as they want 100 percent salary. The government and factory owners will have to pay full salaries," said Khairul Mamun Mintu, organising secretary of Bangladesh Garment Workers Trade Union Centre. Media report that, on Thursday (7 May), at least five workers were injured as the police lobbed teargas shells on workers that were protesting in demand of their wages and allowances. The same article reported that Aminul Haque Amin, president of the National Garments Sramik Federation claimed that at least 200,000 RMG workers from 300 factories across the country have not been paid since March. According to the Financial Express, some workers have started to get their salaries for April from the government’s stimulus package, as banks have started disbursing loans for the payment of these wages.  

Media report that the Government has announced that garment workers will not be allowed to leave their residential areas during the forthcoming Eid holidays. The government also decided to form a committee to ensure healthcare at factories, and to form three sub-committees to oversee healthcare activities in Dhaka, Narayanganj and Gazipur, which are densely populated with working class people, considering those as risky areas.

In an article for the Independent, Mostafiz Uddin, owner of the Denim Expert factory in Bangladesh, explains how order cancellations by major brands – such as the Arcadia group – have affected garment factory owners and workers. “There was no negotiation, no discussion, no partnership or respect. No co-ordination. Nothing. You accept the discount or take the goods. How can I take the goods when they’re already in a UK port?” he asks. “We have bought the raw materials, we have produced the garments, we have invested the money and we will not be able to survive. We will literally die. It will be impossible for us to handle this. Our workers will be suffering a lot. I have no words to express what it will do to us”, he explained.

Media report that 100,000 workers will be provided with free 24/7 phone-based consultations with MBBS doctors covering queries relating to primary health care, mental health and COVID-19. This will service will be provided as a result of an agreement signed by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Common Health Bangladesh. A Common Health representative said that “Within the bounds of doctor-patient confidentiality, we will also inform BGMEA of suspected COVID-19 cases as part of efforts to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases”.

Cambodia: Media report that the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has urged landlords, who lease premises to garment, footwear and travel bag factories, to consider lowering their rental fees by at least 30% for three to six months. 

Media report that Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand who don’t qualify for the government’s financial aid package and have been deprived of the social security benefits they are normally entitled to “face doom and gloom”. “We’re backed into a corner. It looks like I might have to skip some meals to survive this crisis while in Thailand”, a migrant worker explained. Laid-off migrant workers are not entitled to the 5,000 baht virus relief cash handouts from the government. That is for two reasons: the first being that they are foreign nationals and the second because they subscribe to the Social Security Fund which qualifies them for unemployment compensation. However, they cannot claim this benefit because their former employers failed to promptly notify the Social Security Office of the termination of their employment.

India: Media report that, despite a series of government orders – vague and difficult to implement without state support, companies contend – asking employers to pay workers during the lockdown, many companies will not or cannot obey, as even government companies are cutting wages and freezing allowances. At least three petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court demanding that companies be given the freedom to fire or furlough employees. When asked if his company would be able to meet its obligations to its employees, Dominic Jorge, the vice-president of human resources at Gokaldas Exports, the parent company of Carnival Clothing Company, said that they were “working on it” and declined any further information. Gokaldas Exports is a four-decade old company with more 25,000 employees, $200 million in annual turnover and clients such as Walmart, GAP, Banana Republic, Puma and Zara. Distressed companies want the government to subsidise up to 70% of wages during the lockdown, using either emergency funds or government-held provident-funds or employee savings, a move that trade unions oppose. Trade unions oppose dipping into the Employee Provident Fund or ESI to subsidise the wages, extending working hours or anything else that would add to the worker’s burden. “When they were making profits, they weren’t sharing it with the workers. Now they can’t force this loss onto workers”, said Clifton Rosario, an All India Central Council of Trade Unions lawyer.

Media report that the government of Uttar Pradesh (UP) has exempted businesses from the purview of almost all the labour laws for the next three years. The laws that are relaxed include those related to settling industrial disputes, occupational safety, health and working conditions of workers, and those related to trade unions, contract workers, and migrant labourers. The state government’s statement said that the decision has been taken in the wake of losses incurred to businesses and economic activities. The state government of Madhya Pradesh has announced that there will be no inspection in the firms employing less than 50 workers or in small and medium enterprises. Inspections will only take place with the permission of the labour commissioner or in case of complaint. Other states such as Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat have also made changes to their labour laws.

Indonesia: Media report that the Victory Chingluh factory, a Nike supplier, has laid off almost 5,000 workers with a year or less experience at the company. Mr Suwandi Hekkindo, head of GSBI Labour Union, explained that the union asked for management to cut hours and overtime instead, but management responded saying that “layoffs were unavoidable”. Many other workers and unions across Indonesia report similar stories as layoffs accelerate in the country’s garment industry. "In a worst case scenario, 70% of our membership could face layoffs," said Mr Ramidi, the general secretary of the Serikat Perkerjaan Nasional (SPN) labour union, which represents more than 242,300 garment workers. He added that "The factories are using COVID-19 as an excuse to fire workers and move somewhere cheaper”. David Welsh, country director of the Southeast Asia branch of the Solidarity Centre, called on brands to “step up during this time of crisis”. "With the enormous profit margins they've enjoyed on the backs of workers in South-east Asia, they are easily placed to, at a minimum, sustain workers and factories over this period”, he added. 

Media report that, according to the Indonesian Filament and Fiber Producers Association (APSyFI),  more than 70% of Indonesia's garment factories could be forced to permanently close in the coming months as they’re crippled by dwindling orders and no financial support. “We have cash flow difficulties because, even though we have no income, we still have to pay penalties to the state electricity and gas companies while also paying our workers’ social security fees", Redma Gita, Secretary General of the Association explained. 

Myanmar: The New York Times published an article on Myan Mode, a garment factory in the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, that produces for the likes of Mango and Zara, that took COVID-19 as an opportunity to punish workers engaged in union activity. "The media focus has mainly been on whether brands will pay for garment orders already produced. But if more factory owners take this as an opportunity to break down labor movements in the fashion supply chain that could be an even bigger issue", the article warns. 

Pakistan: According to media and news from the CCC network, 2000 garment workers have been dismissed by the management of Sadiq Sons, based in Karachi, this morning (9 May). They make clothes for C&A and KIBI. The company has only paid 50% of workers’ wages and asked workers to work under contractor from tomorrow, which is illegal. Workers blocked the main road in protest and demanded their wages, urging that the company, for which some have worked for a decade, protect their lives and livelihoods. Aqib Hassan, representative of The National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), took part in protest and prepared a written complaint to the joint director of the Labour Department against the management. The NTUF has started a protest campaign and legal action for the payments of wages and job security for workers. 10. 2000 garment workers have been dismissed by the management of Sadiq Sons, based in Karachi #Pakistan. They make clothes for C&A among other brands. The company has only paid 50% of workers’ wages.10. 2000 garment workers have been dismissed by the management of Sadiq Sons, based in Karachi #Pakistan. They make clothes for C&A among other brands. The company has only paid 50% of workers’ wages.

8 May 2020

Global: Media report that a report by McKinsey & Company estimates that the global fashion industry will contract by 27% to 30% in 2020, in terms of year-on-year revenues. If stores remain closed for two months, McKinsey analysis projects that 80% of publicly traded fashion companies in Europe and North America will be in a state of financial distress and that a significant number of them will go bankrupt in the next 12 to 18 months. The report predicts “dire consequences for fashion,” one of the biggest industries in the world, and states that humanitarian repercussions are expected to outlast the pandemic.

Bangladesh: Debenhams Bangladesh office employees report that on 15 April they were informed that they would be terminated despite the general holiday enforced in Bangladesh as part of the lock down. The employees say that the termination was not done according to the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority's legislation and was done without paying for April's wages, severance payments, festival bonus and more. The 69 Bangladeshi employees furthermore face threats by the our office landlord and other creditors as they hold the former Debenhams employees responsible for the company's outstanding debts. 

According to reports from the CCC network, the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF), along with other trade union federations, held a protest in demand of arresting garment factory owners who did not payout workers’ salary for the month of March and to seize their factories and properties. The demand has been made by Mr Amirul Haque Amin, the president of NGWF, keeping a safe distance among participants in a Garment Workers Human Chain in front of the National Press Club, at 11AM. He reiterated that more than three hundred garment owners from Gazipur, Savar, Ashulia, Dhaka, Narayanganj and Chittagong regions still haven’t been paid their March’s salaries. As a result, more than 200,000 workers and their families are living inhumanly, facing starvation. He added that garment workers’ wages are very low and that there is no overtime payment. It is already hard to get by with such low salaries and, not having been paid for the months of March and April, workers and their families have been left homeless and starved during a global pandemic. Mr Amirul Haque Amin demanded the immediate arrest and seizing of factories and properties of the factory owners who are responsible for the sufferings of workers and demanded that the Government and concerned bodies pay garment workers the wages they are owed.NGWF March

Media report that, according to the government’s Industrial Police, there have been 440 protests in 374 factories during the month of April and 279 in 179 factories in March. On the 5th of May, hundreds of workers from around ten garment factories in Dhaka, Ashulia, Savar, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chittagong demonstrated demanding their jobs back and payment of all outstanding wages. As of today, over 930 factories are reported to have laid off their employees and not paid months of outstanding wages.

Media report that, according to a report from the Bangladesh Garment Shramik Sanghati (BGSS), 97 garment workers have tested positive for coronavirus since the 9th of April. Of these workers, 52% have been infected since the reopening of factories on the 26th of April. The president of BGSS, Taslima Akhter, said that these figures suggest that factories were resumed without due precautions and called upon the government and factory owners to reconsider decisions regarding factory reopening. New Age further reports that 10 garment workers have died of COVID-19. Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, when asked about these numbers, said that the data compiled by the BGSS was baseless and protested against it. Taslima Akther further warned that “The real number of infection and death is much higher as many of the infected persons were not tested and many hide their cases to avert social humiliation”.

Media report that Bangladesh’s export volumes through Chittagong port have fallen by 87%, information that has been described as a “crippling blow”. Siddiqur Rhaman, vice president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, explained that this major decrease in exports is largely related to order cancellations by buyers, as the garment sector has lost orders worth billions of dollars in March and April. He warned that, even though factories had reopened, the picture for May was as bad. “We are still hearing order cancellations by buyers and getting no new sourcing decisions from them”, he said. Another article further explained that the novel coronavirus hit Bangladesh at a point when its economy was already under stress. Except for remittance income, all major economic indicators were underperforming at the beginning of 2020. Now, even remittances have decreased. In addition, reports show low private investment and insignificant levels of foreign direct investment. Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, suggested that the government should make short-term measures promptly, as it has, but must also begin designing medium and long-term measures.

Media report that trade union leaders have demanded that the implementation of the financial stimulus packages announced by the government be “swift, transparent and inclusive”. While most trade union leaders praised the government's incentive packages as a timely move, they also questioned its adequacy. Maheen Sultan, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) Research Lead, presented research data proving that the incentive amount will not be enough to pay the salaries and allowances of all workers. The Institute put forward a set of proposals to ensure that the stimulus package announced become more worker-friendly.

Cambodia: Media report that, in addition to suspending more than 2000 of its 5000 garment workers, the You Li International Factory in Bavet has announced that it will not renew 200 workers’ contracts, which had expired last week. Sek Buntheoun, You Li’s administrative chief, said that the factory might suspend more workers because they have no orders and, therefore, “no work to do”. The same article also exposed that the Propitious Garment factory in Takhmao laid off more than 2400 workers without explanation and that the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) estimates that the number of suspended garment workers would soon rise to 200,000.

Media report that a handful of garment factories in Cambodia have switched their production to surgical mask production. These factories have managed to keep operating and pay their workers in full. Ken Loo, Secretary-General of the GMAC made clear, however, that it is very difficult to shift production to PPE. “First of all, the machines are completely different. Secondly, the requirement is also different because if you want to produce surgical masks you need to do it in a cleanroom. You do not do it in the open environment”, he explained. Oum Sotha, Secretary of State at the Industry Ministry, said that the government supported the initiative to transform production lines to manufacturing masks and other protective gear, but reiterated that this is not an easy process. “It doesn’t mean that they [factory owners] don’t want to,” Oum Sotha said. “But such conversions can be a challenge for some as they lack technicians and you cannot just do it overnight due to changes needed in production chains”, he made clear.  

Media report that, due to the fact that the Cambodia Microfinance Association (CMA) rejected the call sent by more than 135 NGOs for a blanket suspension of the repayment of loans made to Cambodians hard hit by recent business shutdowns amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, banks have continued to demand payment that workers are unable to pay. Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA), explained that “A number of banks have continued to demand payment, and those banks are threatening loan-holders, saying they will seize their homes”, adding that many of his association’s members have faced severe financial hardships during the last four months. 

India: Media report that the state of Karnataka decided to cancel trains that would allow working-class people from other states to return to their homes, because the workers were needed in construction sites. Indeed, the Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa left no ambiguity regarding why the trains were canceled, explaining that the decision came after a “meeting with builders”, during which it was explained that “unnecessary travel of the migrant workers has to be controlled”. Karnataka’s decision said that migrant workers do not have the freedom to return to their homes in this moment of crisis, despite the Union Government explicitly allowing them to, because they are needed to work for real-estate developers. Today, media report that, after much outrage over this move, Karnataka has decided to restart trains. Three trains will role from Bengaluru today, carrying migrant workers to their home states. 

According to media 16 migrant workers, that were sleeping on rail tracks, were hit by a train at around 5:15AM today (8 May), near Karmad, around 360km from Mumbai. The driver spotted them and tried to stop, but could not, the Railways Ministry said in a statement. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that he was “extremely anguished by the loss of lives due to the rail accident”.

Media report that around 1000 garment factories have reopened in Tirupur with 20% to 25% of their usual workforce. According to industry representatives, workers are subjected to thermal screening at the entrance of the units, wear masks and respect social distancing measures.

Media report that there will be a virtual panel discussion on the 14th of May around the challenges faced by the Indian garment industry titled: “How will Indian Manufacturers revive post COVID-19?”.

Myanmar: Garment factory workers in their free time produced face masks in the Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association Office in line with the health directives of the Health and Sports Minister. These masks were spread to families in worker communities. 

An article on Buzzfeed exposes the dichotomy between the praises the CEO of Inditex, Zara’s parent company, has been receiving and  how workers in his supply chain are being treated. At the height of the pandemic in Spain this year, Amancio Ortega, the sixth-richest man in the world, pivoted his fashion empire to making hospital gowns and masks and flew in medical supplies worth millions from China. Ortega also made sure that Zara’s Spanish employees received their full salaries during the crisis — all of which won him plenty of great press and support in Spain. On March 28, ambulance crews gathered outside his home to wish him a happy birthday. But Ortega’s generosity and concern for Zara’s workers stopped at the borders of Spain. Although Inditex does not publicly disclose the list of factories it sources clothing from, we know that Myan Mode Factory, in Myanmar, produces clothes for Zara. Here, workers put in 11-hour shifts, six days a week, for as little as $3.50–$4.74 per day. While people sang “Happy Birthday” to Ortega from their balconies in Spain, more than 500 workers in two factories that make the clothes that made him rich were laid off after asking to be supplied with durable masks and for social distancing to be introduced to protect them from the coronavirus. One of the factories, Myan Mode, fired every single member of a workers’ union, along with a woman who had complained of being sexually harassed at the factory last year. Most of Myan Mode’s workers are young women from rural villages — Myanmar’s garment workforce is over 90% women. “We could all die, and for what? Making already rich brands super rich,” one worker said on the phone from Myanmar’s capital. “The working class is being sacrificed so they can wear good clothes”.

Media report that the Mandalay regional government has allowed the re-opening of more than 600 factories in the region after passing inspections for complying with COVID-19 regulations. U Ye Win Aung, secretary of the Mandalay industrial zone management committee, said that about 1000 factories have been inspected. He added that all large factories in the region have been inspected, and that inspectors are now going through small workshops that have 10 employees or less.

7 May 2020

Global: A new 15-page white paper on the potential impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak on cotton supply chains has been published today by MCL News & Media. This new briefing aims to help retailers, brands and those involved in cotton production to strategise their way through the economic and social crisis caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak. With contributions from several key cotton organisations such as Fairtrade, ICAC, Cotton Connect, Bremen Cotton Exchange, Cotton Inc., Cotton made in Africa, among others, the ‘Impact of COVID-19 on global cotton supply’ includes a set of recommendations for a fairer and more resilient cotton in the post-COVID world. 

HomeNet South Asia shares an article on home-based workers (HBWs), exposing their working conditions and the devastating impact of COVID-19. For HBWs, working and living in tiny places meant for the whole family, with little or poor lighting, ventilation, locality based common sanitation facilities, ‘social distancing’, is a luxury. “In unprecedented times we forget that for a large part of the population ‘HOME’ may not be safe and neither is the luxury of social distancing possible”, the article exposes.

Bangladesh: Media report that around 900 garment factories have reopened since April 26 and that, although factories have been instructed to follow safety regulations set by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Export Association (BGMEA), less than half of these factories fall under the BGMEA’s remit, which makes knowing how many of these factories are actually following safeguards unclear. According to Kalpona Akter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, at least four garment workers have died from COVID-19 and more than fifty are infected. “I’m really worried. These workers are in their communities, sharing kitchens and toilets, then exposed to transport and now the factories. So we need to watch the infections over the next week”, she warned. 

Cambodia: Media report that the government’s payment of around $38 per month to suspended garment workers will only reach about 61,500 workers. The article further exposes that, even for the workers that will receive this payment, it is far from enough. “I have already struggled for these two months to pay back the debt, as my husband does not make money anymore (…) food and goods are a lot more expensive because of more demand”, a garment worker explained. 

Media report that nearly 2,000 workers from the You Li International Garment factory, in Bavet, have been furloughed. Pum Sokunthy, an officer of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said that the company decided to suspend its operations from the 1st of May until the 30th of June. “The workers will receive compensation from the government and the company. In the meantime, they will be faced with difficulties as they try to get by day by day”, he warned. “We depend on our wages to support our daily needs. Now that the company has announced to suspend operations, we do not know what will happen to us in the next two months”, a worker from this factory explained. The same article reports that unions have sent a petition to the Prime Minister urging the government to increase compensation and other benefits for suspended garment workers.

India: Media report that textile factories in Karur has been hit hard by order cancellations, reporting losses of over Rs 1,000 crore. Gopalakrishnan, former secretary of Karur District Exporters Association, explained that “Industries here receive orders in December and January, April and May and August and September. These are our peak seasons and business amounts to Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 crore. Now, finished products are lying in factories as we are unable to export them.” He added that the government has allowed factories to reopen, but, as over 50% of orders have been cancelled, the future of the textile business in Karur remains uncertain. Gopalakrishnan urged the government should exempt them from paying Employee State Insurance (ESI) and Provident Fund (PF) to employees for at least six months, waive interest on loans, extend the repayment period for loans without penalty and provide financial assistance. “Only through these kinds of assistance would industries here be able to restart production”, he warned. 

Indonesia: According to reports from the CCC network, Marsinah FM and the Labour Study Group (Kobar) conducted an online survey from the 23rd of March until the 10th of April 2020 to monitor workers’ rights fulfillment in Greater Jakarta, Karawang and Central Java. The information gathered from 146 workers from 83 different companies revealed the poor level of fulfillment of workers’ rights during the COVID-19 outbreak. The three main findings are as follows:

  1. Exploitation during pandemic: Around 67,81% of workers have been obligated to report to work. In addition, 25,25% of workers reported to be working without any preventive facilities from the company. In many cases, workers have been expected to buy their own PPE;
  2. No work, no pay: Workers are forced to take unpaid leave. About 28,08% of workers have been furloughed by their companies. Most of them received no salary or, otherwise, unpaid leave;
  3. Workers feel uncertain about their future and distrust the State to protect them: About 78.29% of workers reported to feel unsafe about their job security.

Clean Clothes Campaign published an article on the devastation of COVID-19 on UNIQLO’s former garment workers in Indonesia. Although Uniqlo is the third-largest apparel retailer, it is not fulfilling a proportional responsibility to workers. “Five years ago this April, the Jaba Garmindo factory, which made clothes for Uniqlo, went bankrupt in Indonesia; in one of the worst and unresolved cases of severance wage theft ever, 2,000 garment workers have been fighting for $5.5 million legally-owed to them in severance pay. The workers, mostly women, struggled to find new factory work following the bankruptcy, often discriminated against for being too old, having worked at Jaba Garmindo for years, or unofficially blacklisted due to their ongoing campaigning efforts.” The article ends with by calling on brands to value the lives of those who make their profits possible. “In no case is this more urgent than that of Jaba Garmindo and Uniqlo. #PayUpUniqlo.”

Myanmar: Media report that the Government of Myanmar is prepared to quarantine up to 100,000 returning migrant workers, mostly returning from China and Thailand. U Aung Kyaw Zan, director general of Consular and Legal Affairs for the Ministry, warned that the number of workers who want to return home may decline once Thai factories reopen, as many migrant workers are returning because the factories where they worked have suspended operations. The article also stated that the government is compiling a list of workers who have lost their jobs as a result of factory closures in Thailand. 

The Myanmar Times reports that around 80% of the EU’s cash support to garment workers in Myanmar will be used to support at least 30,000 to 80,000 workers that have been laid off. They will receive K 75,000 (around $54) per month for April, May and June. Of the remaining funds, 10% will be used to support about 3,000 to 8,000 workers who were illegally terminated. Media also report that the Government is negotiating for foreign aid and assistance from The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help it implement a stimulus plan aimed at providing relief to businesses and industries affected by COVID-19.

Media report that the manufacturing sector in Myanmar has recorded an accelerated downturn in April. According to Trevor Balchin, Economics Director at HIS Markit, "Myanmar's manufacturing sector nosedived in April as the global economy was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) dropped like a stone to 29.0”. PMI plummeted to 29.0 in April from 45.3 in March, signaling a severe decline in manufacturing business conditions in Myanmar.

Nepal: Media report that Nepal’s footwear industry, that employs around 50,000 people, is suffering daily losses of Rs 30-40 million as production and sales come to a halt. Krishna Kumar Phuyal, president of the Footwear Manufacturers Association of Nepal, said that employees’ salaries for March had been paid, but that manufacturers were still unsure about how they are going to manage paying for April’s wages. Phuyal estimated that it would take around six to seven months for the industry to get back on its feet and urged the government to aid the footwear industry. “There are chances of footwear companies running short of capital, so banks and financial institutions should provide financial relief, and the government should come with some provision towards this end”, he said. The Kathmandu Post reports that, according to Chandi Prasad Aryal, president of the Garment Association of Nepal, garment manufacturers have suffered losses worth Rs 1.25 billion, which has left manufacturers “in no position to pay their employees”. The Associations urged the government to contribute with 50% of workers’ salaries. Some factories have been operating at lower capacity, only with workers that reside nearby. These factories paid these workers’ Chaitra salaries in full, but workers who were not able to come to work because of the lockdown only received half of their pay. Considering that 90% of Nepal’s readymade garments are shipped to Europe, Canada, Australia and India, and brands keep postponing or canceling orders, the future of the Nepali garment industry is uncertain. 

Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, the Lucky Textile Mill factory has dismissed more than 200 workers. Most of them are women. This same company forced workers to wait inside the factory for more than three hours in order to find out if their wages would be paid or not. 

6 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that eight more ready made garment (RMG) factory workers tested positive for Covid-19 in Savar on Tuesday, after seven had tested positive on Friday. The total number of infected RMG workers in the Savar region to 20.

According to reports from the CCC network, a discussion was held on Monday, the 4th of May, at the invitation of State Minister for Labour Mannujan Sufian, with the leaders of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) on various issues faced by garment workers in the country. During the discussion, when the State Minister informed about the decision to pay 60% of the wages for the month of April 2020, the IBC leaders demanded that 100% of the wages be paid. On behalf of the owners, BGMEA president Dr Rubana Haque, BKMEA president Selim Osman, A. Salam Murshedi MP, A K Azad and BKMEA vice president Mr. Hatem declined to discuss any proposal to increase wages. The meeting came to a standstill when the State Minister for Labour, employers' representatives and the president of the Jatiya Sramik League, Fazlul Haque Montu, similarly said that there was no opportunity to consider a proposal to increase wages from 60%. After lengthy discussions, the owners, Mr. A. Salam Murshedy and Mr. A. K. Azad, announced that 65% of the wages would be paid. After this announcement, IBC leaders gradually left the meeting venue in protest. The IBC did not agree with the decision of the owners. As a result, no unanimous decision was taken from the meeting. The IBC will continue protesting against the announcement of 65% wage in all print and electronic media and demand 100% wage for the month of April, along with the 7 points-demand submitted in the meeting.

Media report that 56 export-oriented textile and apparel companies listed at the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE), the country’s prime bourse, with a total of 321 listen companies, have expressed concerns over a huge fall in earnings. The article makes clear that this is the direct impact of brands’ order cancelations. The Global Times reports that Bangladesh’s garment exports declined by nearly 85% in April, which represents a decline in $366.58M worth of exports compared to April 2019.

Aljazeera hosted a talk on how Bangladesh has been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Aruna Kashyap, from Human Rights Watch, exposed that brands and retailers have been cancelling orders with complete disregard for workers’ livelihoods in the country.

Cambodia: Media report that workers from suspended factories are yet to receive the government's help and that many have been excluded from the relief package. According to the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), nearly 200 factories have suspended their operations since March. Although the government announced that workers affected by these suspensions would receive payments from the government, the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training announced that it is still “in the process of providing money and that the total amount is as yet unknown”. In addition, the Government shared that payments will only be provided to workers that worked for businesses formally registered with the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, the Ministry of Tourism or the Ministry of Commerce, excluding many of the country’s now unemployed workers.

Media report that no resolution has yet come from yesterday’s (5 May) protest at the Kun Da Footwear factory, as workers explain that the company keeps promising, day after day, that it will pay workers’ wages and some benefits, but, until now, no payments have been made.

Media report that the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) shared an open letter urging buyers to honour the payment for goods received or in transit, as “Cambodian manufacturers are already suffering from many cancellations and, with no new orders, they cannot withstand any payment default”. “Payment terms can be discussed, but no payment is not acceptable, and we therefore appeal to your sense of decency to make good on your debt.”, the letter added.  

India: Media report that, according to a report by Wazir Advisors, the Indian apparel industry is projected to decline by 35%, making clear that, “the longer the lockdown, the slower the recovery”. 

Media report that the COVID-19 crisis has led to a spike in India’s unemployment rate. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) said that the unemployment rate was highest in urban areas, at 29,22%. In rural areas, unemployment rate was at 26.69%. The monthly unemployment rate in April increased to 23.52% in April, compared to March’s 8.74%.

The Wire shares an article that exposes how the order to increase working hours from 8 hours to 12 hours a day shifts the burden disproportionately onto workers. Four state governments have passed orders that allow for the increase in working hours from 8 hours to 12 hours a day. This move, as claimed in a notification by the Rajasthan labour department, will allow for firms to operate at full capacity while “…ensuring minimal presence of people in manufacturing and distribution.” Although states like Rajasthan have mandated that workers who work longer hours must be paid overtime, Gujarat has not included such an order. “Not paying overtime simply amounts to extracting more output and profits on the back of overworked labour without fair recompense”, the writer argued. The article ends by stating that “The idea that economic revival can only come about through extending the working day is a disconcerting idea that reduces working conditions across the board, when the task should be one of improving standards everywhere”.

Regarding migrant workers, media reports that the Chief Labour Commissioner’s Office (CLC) has no data on stranded migrant workers. The CLC, under the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment, claims that it does not have state-wise and district-wise data, despite the fact that the Office ordered regional heads based in twenty centres across the country to enumerate every migrant worker stranded due to the lockdown during the second week of April, 2020. Another article reports that migrant workers in Punjab are making their way home by foot. “We have no money, no job and the government left us on our own. What should we do?”, they said.

Indonesia: According to media and news from the CCC network, the PT Masterindo factory in Bandung City, reportedly producing for Guess, Ivanka Trump's brand, DKNY, s. Oliver, Habitat, and many more is closing temporarily without informing the union FSPSI. The union wants to see and be consulted on a plan by the management on how long the closure is going to last, how wages and festive bonuses are going to be paid during the closure and what the safety measures will be on reopening. Today workers are paid for last month's work, without knowing whether or when they will be paid again. Workers are still active today to prepare the shipment for Habitat.

Myanmar: According to media reports and information from the CCC network, six ABFTU activists, including leader Kyaw Myo, have been arrested and sentenced to three months in prison. Five more ABFTU leaders have been arrested as well. Workers from Blue Diamond (Bag supplier) went on strike to get full salaries for April on 2 May. On 4 May, armed police invaded the place where workers protested using forces and arrested two union leaders of Blue Diamond factory and other unionists from All Burma Federation of Trade Unions unjustly, without proper process. They had been brought to the court directly and sentenced to three month imprisonment for their protest.

Today, other workers from Rain Warehouse (Myanmar), producing rain gear, and Bright Bag factory, backpack supplier, have been arrested although these workers had already reached agreement with employers.

Media report that the government’s COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP) attracts mixed reactions from economists and business insiders. Dr Aung Win, a garment factory owner, said that, although the lending rate has been reduced to 10%, it is not yet a fair rate. He further warned that, considering the current trend regarding orders from buyers, it will be difficult to re-employ the 50% of garment workers who have been dismissed. He urged the government to take the now unemployed workers into consideration and to design plans according to their needs, not forgetting the migrant workers who are returning from abroad. Dr Aung Thein, Chairman of the Myanmar Industries Association, said that the government should involve industries in the discussions before issuing orders and instructions.

Media report that more than 26,000 Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand have registered with the embassy to return home and are waiting on approval from the Thai government to head to the border. The Myanmar government has prepared quarantine centres, as migrants will be required to undergo mandatory quarantine once they cross the border. Another article explains that these migrants are stranded without cash in Thailand, counting the days to return home. Many of these migrant workers lost their jobs in garment factories in Thailand. They are now stuck on the other side of the border with no income. 

Media report that, of the over 60,000 factories registered nationwide, only 2,000 had been inspected by April 30 and over 1,900 were allowed to resume operations. As inspections are extended until the 15th of May, most factories will not operate for around six weeks. Dr Aung Thein, Chairman of the Myanmar Industries Association, said that compensation should be given proportionately, depending on the impacts of the instructions for temporary closures. Another article explained that all reopened factories have been instructed by the Health Ministry to ensure workers can wash their hands and respect social distancing measures. In addition, factories must have temperature checks and send home any workers with a fever.

Pakistan: Media report that millions of workers in Pakistan’s textile industry face destitution unless a way forward can be found between brands and their suppliers, as Pakistan has, so far, had around $200M worth of orders cancelled. The textile industry has decreased in 15 to 20 percent. Imran Khan, the Prime Minister, explained that 80% of the country’s labour force is not registered for any kind of social protection and, therefore, “faces a future of grave uncertainty”. In addition, Shafiq Shahzad, Trade and Investment Minister at the UK High Commission for Pakistan, warned that “Most of the industry is running on Daily Wage Labour which means that if the factory shuts down, the labourer goes unemployed. They do not get benefits from the state, so this is a huge problem the industry and society is facing”. The impact of brand cancelations is very far reaching on employment and for the country’s economy, due to Pakistan’s heavy reliance on textile and clothing. 

Southeast Asia: HomeNet Southeast Asia keeps an updated blog on COVID-19’s impact on the home-based workers in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Swaziland: IndustriALL reports that over 18,000 workers from the textile and garment industries have not been paid since the announcement of the lockdown. This means that workers have no money to buy food, pay rent, bills and other basic necessities. “We have not been paid and are trying to survive with the little money we have. It is hard. The employer must give us our money so that we can buy food. Some of the women in the factory are widows and it is extremely difficult for them. We will be killed by hunger before the coronavirus gets us. We need our wages as we cannot buy even salt. We are struggling to pay rent. Why is the employer not paying us when they have the money?”, a garment workers from Fashion International in Matsapha explains. Valter Sanches, general secretary of IndustriALL urged employers to act responsibly, paying their workers what they are owed. Negotiations between the government, employers and labour representatives are taking place and IndustriALL hopes that immediate actions to support workers will be announced soon.

Thailand: WIEGO shares a video on the swift and severe financial impact of COVID-19 on home-based garment workers, who earn even less than factory workers. A Bangkok-based home-workers describes her working conditions.

5 May 2020

Global: Thulsi Narayanasamy, head of Labour Rights at the Businness and Human Rights Resource Centre, speaks to ViuTV Six News about the “humanitarian crisis on the back of what international fashion brands have done”, explaining how the COVID-19 outbreak has affected garment workers in supply chains. “The garment workers that make up around 40-60 million workers worldwide are bearing the brunt of this crisis”, she pointed out. 

Bangladesh: Media report that workers from suspended factories will get 65% of their wages for the month of April, instead of the 60% that had been previously announced. The decision came out of a meeting presided by the State Minister for Labour and Employment with trade union leaders and garment owners that was held yesterday (4 May). “Trade union leaders demanded to increase the percentage of wages for those workers who were unable to join office and on behalf of the owners we honoured it and increased salaries to 65% for the last month”, the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) announced. Trade union leaders, however, remain discontent with the 5% rise. “We have demanded 80% salaries for the workers who could not join factories due to the lock down but the factory owners did not agree,” Babul Akter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation said. New Age explains that workers will be paid 65% of their gross wages in April, but that the increased 5% would only be paid in June with the wages for May.

Media report that Zhaid Maleque, Health Minister, has announced that garment factories will be forced to shut down if a significant number of workers get infected with COVID-19. "By strictly maintaining the health rules, garment sector and [other] industries can be resumed. We have to take care of people's livelihood as well as their health," the Health Minister said, while urging garment factory owners to strictly follow the health safety guidelines.

The Daily Star argues that it seems that the decision to reopen factories was taken before thinking things through. “When the decision to reopen the factories in phases was taken, the government also asked the factories to allow only workers in the locality of the factories to work. But in reality, garment workers who had gone to their villages when factories were closed, came back in droves in fear of losing their jobs, for a second time, thus nullifying the whole purpose of the lock down—to prevent the spread of the virus. And now workers are again in very close proximity to each other and therefore, at high risk of getting infected.”, the article exposes. The article ends with a call for the government to ensure that all decisions taken so far to keep garment workers safe are implemented immediately, both inside and outside factories, as images of garment workers leaving their factory in Ashulia in crowds emerge. “Without such a holistic approach, the reopening process may have disastrous consequences.”

Media report that around 250 garment workers from the Adiyat Apparels factory in Savar staged a demonstration earlier today (5 May) demanding arrears and protesting the prolonged closure of the factory in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Factory management sent a text message to all its workers saying that the factory closure would continue until June 1st. The factory manager, Tamim Ahmed, said that they will not be able to pay workers due to order cancellations and announced that workers would be laid off.

The Daily Star reports that Debenhams has sought a 90% discount on all orders, meaning it will pay only $1 if the price of a woven shirt was fixed at $10 when the goods were shipped. Initially, Debenhams sought 60 days moratorium from Bangladeshi suppliers to pay $70 million up to March, but later it sought another 30 days. Zahangir Alam, the coordinator of Debenhams Vendors Community in Bangladesh exclaimed that “This is absurd” and said that they will hold a virtual meeting tomorrow (6 May) with the administrators and the sourcing head of Debenhams to demand their payment. Alam made clear that suppliers can, at most, handle a 15% discount and urged the governments of Bangladesh and the UK to work together and find an amicable solution, explaining that “Otherwise, we will be in more trouble during this critical time”.

Media report that more than 205 factories have reopened in Chattogram without implementing health and safety measures to protect them from contracting COVID-19. Workers have said that they are wearing face masks out of their own sense of self-preservation, but that factory owners are neither providing hand gloves, hand sanitisers or hand washing facilities, nor ensuring social distancing within factory perimeters. "The factory authority has checked if we were wearing masks when we enter. But the temperature gun is not working properly and there is no place to wash hands save for at mealtimes”, a worker explained. The general manager of the Chittagong Export Processing Zone (CEPZ) explains that it is impossible to maintain social distance among workers, as “If workers enter CEPZ through four separate rows, about 25,000 workers will queue up in each row. And if the workers maintain a distance of three meters among themselves, then the length of each line will be 75 km long.” The BGMEA remains, nonetheless, defiant about the need to reopen factories. Although some factories have failed to apply health and safety measures within their factories, The Daily Star reports that others, such as the Paramount Textile factory, have set the example. When workers enter Paramount Textile's plant in Sreepur, Gazipur, they go through a temperature testing procedure using a thermal scanner, wash their hands properly and disinfect their shoes. In addition, workers have received advice from doctors about hygiene, how to ensure safe distancing and improve immunity. The factory provides free medical check-up to workers’ family members and some free medicines. 

Media report that around 2,200 garment factories have applied for bank credits from the government’s coronavirus bailout funds worth nearly Tk 31.5 billion in order to be able to pay workers. Serajul Islam, Bangladesh Bank spokesperson, said that factories have been provided with a total of Tk 20 billion and that the rest will be cleared soon.

Media report that remittances have decreased to an all-time low in April, having catastrophic impacts on families that rely on migrant workers’ income. The article explains that families of thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers are in the same boat of uncertainty as the economic crisis hits global economies. Remittances are expected to contract even more as the Gulf nations, where 75% of the migrant workers reside, are pushing to return the manpower to their respective countries.

Media report that the Prime Minister has announced that shops would be allowed to open on limited scale for the Eid-ul-Fitr, the country’s biggest shopping festival. "This will be the last possible way for us to recover some of our losses", said Alauddin Malik, president of Bangladesh Avhantarin Poshak Prostutkarak Malik Samity, which represents about 20,000 small garment factories, who mostly focus on the domestic market. It is, however, far from enough. The association urged the government to give them loans under simple terms and conditions so that they can pay the workers’ salaries and clear the bills.

Media report that hundreds of workers from around ten garment factories in Dhaka, Ashulia, Savar, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chittagong demonstrated on the 5th of May demanding their jobs back and payment of all outstanding wages.

  • In Ashulia’s Narsinghpur area at least 300 Adiyat Apparels workers demonstrated over layoffs. Management shut down the plant on March 28 and later announced that all employees were laid off until June 1. Workers were not paid their March wages.
  • Over 100 Dragon Sweater factory workers in Dhaka’s Malibagh area on Tuesday demanded five month’s outstanding wages.
  • About 400 Jeasha Fashion workers protested over their unpaid March wages and another 400 Satter Tex workers demonstrated for three months’ wages.
  • About 900 Papella workers and 1,300 UFM (BD) employees at garment factories in the Chattogram Export Processing Zone marched for their March and April salaries.
  • About 3,000 Antim Knitting, Dyeing and Finishing garments workers protested for payment of the outstanding 50 percent of their wages.

Cambodia: Media report that about 400 footwear workers, from the KUN DA factory in Phnom Penh, protested earlier today (5 May) demanding missing wages and seniority. “Our employer has fled. No one has come to find solution related to our seniority pay”, a worker explained. The same article reports that GMAC released a statement yesterday saying that 80 factories have suspended their operation and that 60 more are coming close to the same fate, which will affect more than 150,000 workers. 

Eastern Europe and Central Asia: HomeNet Eastern Europe and Central Asia call on the governments of Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Tadjikistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan to:

  1. Ensure minimum wages per month for home-based workers as formal workers for the period of national emergency;
  2. Ensure treatment of home-based workers impacted by COVID-19, even those who do not have adequate social and health insurance coverage;
  3. Postpone payment of taxes, rents, social security in the next 2-3 months. Home-based workers will not have any income to cover expenses next month;
  4. Freeze mortgage loans and fast credits;
  5.  Support centres and networks of home-based workers by providing information and services.

Myanmar: Media report that the Financial Regulatory Department under the Ministry of Planning Finance and Industry has extended the suspension of microfinance operations until the 15th of May. Activities such as providing loans for emergency and voluntary loan repayments will be permitted during the suspension period.

Myan Mode factory garment workers, who make clothes for Mango and Zara, continue to protest the mass termination of all 520 union members. The factory is still running with non-organized workers.  

CCC network organization ALR Myanmar is preparing and distributing food packages to workers communities in Shwepyithar and Hlatharyar Industrial Zone. More than 250 packages of potatoes, onions, rice, oil, eggs, beans. A package is enough for 3-4 persons for a week.

ALR relief COVID

Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, the Lucky Textile Mill factory, producing clothes, dismissed more than 700 workers without informing them. They found out because the factory gate was closed for them. Their factory cards were also taken from them by the management. The majority of them received wages counting 22 days for the month of March, but contactor workers didn’t receive their wages. A total of 8000 workers were working in the factory. Of these, around 4500 were working on piece rate. Most of the workers received a call from HR department warning them that management had locked them from entering the factory and, thus, from working. Today (5 May), they protested. Because of today’s protest outside the factory gate, management called all workers inside the factory and told them that they will pay for one-month worth of wages. The workers disagreed and asked for three months wages and their dues. Management agreed workers will receive their wages and dues from Thursday, the 7th of May.

USA: The Los Angeles Times reports on how the CARES Act excludes undocumented migrants and mixed-status families, that have been disproportionally impacted during the COVID-19 outbreak. The writer explains how her parents, who have worked in garment sweatshops in unsanitary conditions under an exploitative piece-rate system and are now ineligible for public benefits because of their immigration status, are now in even worse conditions of financial instability and food insecurity than they were before. “As the U.S.-born Latina daughter of immigrants, I am seeing firsthand how the virus disproportionately affects mixed-status families like mine, whose members have varying legal status”, she wrote. The recently passed federal CARES Act offers $1,200 to Americans earning up to £75,000 in adjusted gross income and who have a Social Security number. It also provides $500 for each child in the family. However, because it is only available to those with Social Security numbers, it excludes millions of undocumented workers and mixed-status families. 

4 May 2020

Global: Media report that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that nearly half of the world’s workers are at immediate risk of losing their jobs. "For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future. Millions of businesses around the world are barely breathing", Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, said. 

The Human Rights & Democracy Network has compiled resources from its members, partners and international organisations to help guide crisis responses, monitor, inform and assess the impact of COVID-19.

Bangladesh: Media report that the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) has ordered that all workers show their identity cards when entering Dhaka. Workers will not get permission at ferry terminals or other entry points without showing valid ID cards. 

Media report that the poverty rate has almost doubled to 40 per cent of the population, at least temporarily, reversing all the gains achieved in poverty reduction.

Media report that many operating garment factories have breached health guidelines, as units were supposed to run with only 30% of workers in the first phase (26-30 April). According to the BGMEA inspection report, most factories have been found to have started running with more than 50% of workers, as many engaged 70 to 90% of their workforce – a clear violation of the COVID-19 guidelines. This article also reports that workers in Gazipur staged demonstrations in front of their factory when they weren’t allowed in the premises by factory management. They were assured that they had not been terminated and that they were not allowed in because of the COVID-19 guidelines, that only allowed the presence of 30% of the workforce. Workers said, however, that they could not depend on the words of factory management, as many of their coworkers had been terminated since the beginning of the outbreak.

Worker rights organizations in Bangladesh report that 700 workers are protesting at the A one factory in the Dhaka EPZ for not receiving wages in the past four months. The factory supplies to Tesco and Li & Fung among other buyers.

Media report that workers that had been trying to get to Dhaka for the reopening of factories had to pay excessive fares for transportation due to the shutdown. They used different types of transportation, such as trucks, pick-up vans, rickshaws and some even walked to their destination. 

Cambodia: Central Cambodia has posted a video portraying the life of a Cambodian migrant worker in Malaysia. In the video, the migrant worker calls on the Cambodian government to help workers get legal employment status in Malaysia, so that they can avoid labour exploitation and safely return home. 

Media report that unions have sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister of Cambodia demanding that furloughed employees receive 60% of their wages. The joint letter was signed by the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) and the Cambodian Tourism and Service Worker’s Federation – all of which represent 226 local unions with 100,000 workers from eight sectors in the country. The unions also suggested that the government increase the minimum wage from $190 to $250 for garment workers and enforce fixed wages to workers in the construction, tourist, services, transportation and other sectors.

India: Migrant workers in India have started to make their way home. Media report that the first “special train”, carrying 800 migrant workers, has left Maharashtra’s Nashik, where workers had been stranded for weeks, in direction to Uttar Pradesh. Some migrant workers are also going back home by bus. Aljazeera reports that another train, carrying 1,200 migrant workers has left Hyderabad in direction to the state of Jharkhand. BBC News report that there are around 100 million migrant workers in India. Media report that 20 hundred thousand migrant workers have registered to head back home from Gujarat. “The Gujarat government appears to have found itself in a difficult situation with scores of migrants wanting to go back to their home states.”, The Times of India reported. The same article projects that this number is likely to increase by a few more lakhs. Meanwhile, media report that 18 migrant workers have been found travelling inside a cement mixer, trying to reach the city of Lucknow. India Today reports that a bus carrying migrant workers, suffered an accident, in which one passenger was killed and 40 have been injured, one of them in critical condition.

The Wire reports that hundreds of migrant workers seeking to return home clashed with police in Gujarat earlier today while asking to be sent home. “Many of us sold off our watches and mobile phones to arrange for the bus fare. Now we are still at the same place, with no permission given to our buses to move. We are stranded here with no help from officials. We demand the governments of the two states to coordinate fast for our return back home”, a migrant worker said.

Myanmar: Media report that U Aung Naing Oo, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER) has said that “Almost all businesses in the country are suffering as a result of the coronavirus (outbreak)”. He added that the impact has been mostly significant in the garment industry and tourism sector. It is estimated as many as 500,000 factory workers have been furloughed or dismissed as a result of insufficient supplies and order cancellations in the country. The garment industry accounts for the majority of the factory closures.

Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, after workers’ protest, the International Textile Factory will pay workers’ salaries from the 7th of May and will not fire anyone. 

Serbia: Several hundred workers (500-700) of subcontracting companies of the Benetton supplier “Olimpijas”  have heard that their companies, including Tecnostiro, Nora, Tesil, Tuscan and Martitex, have filed for foreclosure and that all of them will be loosing their jobs. Workers of the companies have held protests last week demanding severance pay. Some workers might get employment in the Olimpijas factory itself: it is however of utmost important that they will not be employed under worse conditions than at the subcontracting factories. 

Turkey: Media report that the Istanbul Chamber of Industry's report shows that Turkey’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for the manufacturing sector suffered, in April, the steepest decline since the global financial crisis. 

3 May 2020

Bangladesh: The Daily Star has published an article exposing how global buyers’ policies are affecting workers in their supply chains. “You die, we live”, as policies mainly follow the lines of discount, deferred payment, auction or cancellation. Troubles for factories are coming from three directions: goods that were already in stores of buyers but not paid for, goods that are still lying at ports of export destinations and work of goods that are in progress at factories in Bangladesh. The article states that Debenhams ordered $27M from 35 manufacturers and is now refusing to pay for goods worth around $20M that are already in their stores and offering only 10% off $7M price for the shipments lying at ports. By interviewing more than 20 Bangladeshi factory owners, the article concludes that they see these ultimatums as absurd, forcing many to shut down their factories, leaving workers unemployed. The article ends with a call for a more strategical than financial sustainable bailout strategy for the Bangladeshi garment industry – one that would involve the manufacturers, governments, brands, labour unions and organisations. 

Media report that garment workers’ salary disbursements from the government’s stimulus package start today (3 May). A good number of companies hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic have applied to 38 banks for the soft loans. The Daily Star spoke with at least 11 of the banks, which are now taking preparations to disburse the wage to the workers. The owners of the export-oriented industries, which are allowed to enjoy the loans, will have to pay back the fund within two years after a six-month of grace period starting from July.

Media report that Zahid Maleque, Health Minister, has said that the readymade garment factories will be operated by strictly maintaining health rules. In order to make sure rules are being followed, he said a separate coordination committee would be formed with the health ministry officials and RMG sector leaders and the committee will monitor whether the health rules are being implemented in the RMG sector. He reiterated that no worker can move from one factory to another in the areas until further notice. “If anyone leaves the three districts (Dhaka, Narayanganj and Gazipur), he or she will have to stay in home quarantine”, he added.

An article in The Daily Star explains that workers in the informal sector, that account for 85% of the country’s total employed population, get little attention from policymakers, as they have been ignored in the labour law and have little scope to organize. As Razequzzaman Ratan, president of the Socialist Labour Front, made clear: "The whole informal sector has remained out of the purview of the legal process”.

Indonesia: FBLP, member of CCC Indonesia, distributes food packages to people in need.

Covid19 relief Indonesia

Media report that labour experts have said that the government should ensure that businesses have adequate support to prevent layoffs, and – where job reductions are inevitable – the government must ensure that workers’ rights are protected. “The options [for laborers] are quite limited. If they are dismissed, it is important that they secure full compensation as stipulated by the Labor Law. If they are furloughed, they should get full wages and THR [holiday bonus]”, explained Hadi Subhan, labour scholar from the Airlangga University.

Myanmar: According to a union organizer, garment workers in Myanmar are being forced to go to work, where social distancing measures are not being respected. If they do not go to work, they will be fired. 

Media report that not enough businesses are getting access to Myanmar’s government’s emergency COVID-19 funds. Of the 200 companies eligible to receive the government’s COVID-19 soft loans, only 20 have been given funding over K100 million. Over 1600 businesses applied for loans under K100 billion, mostly from the tourism and manufacturing sectors. U Ye Win Aung, secretary of the Mandalay Industrial Zone, explained that “most of the loans were distributed in Yangon. But it isn’t just businesses in Yangon that need funds. The whole country is feeling the impact of COVID-19”. In fact, only two out of the 400 loan applicants in Mandalay had their applications approved.

Media report that over 60,000 workers across the country have lost their jobs due to factory shutdowns caused by cancelled orders and the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption of raw material supplies. According to the Labour, Immigration and Population Ministry, 175 factories have stopped operations since December. In Yangon Region, for example, the Brightberg Enterprises bag factory, which dismissed more than 300 employees, has shut down permanently.

2 May 2020

Global: New research from Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) suggests that the impact of COVID-19 is likely to have a long-term impact on informal workers’ lives. WIEGO warns that it is critical that longer-term thinking about how informal incomes can recover and how income security may be achieved are a part of policy responses.

Bangladesh: Media report that seven garment workers in Savar have tested positive for COVID-19. Dr. Sayemul Huda, Upazila Health and Family Planning officer, sent a letter requesting that all factories be shut down, in an attempt to contain the virus. He told the Dhaka Tribune that “The coronavirus situation has been worsening by the day since the lockdown was lifted and the garment factories were reopened in Savar. If the factories aren’t kept closed and the area isn’t kept under lockdown, the situation may turn dangerous”. 

Media report that, although the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exports Association (BGMEA) assures that only 850 factories have opened and that they are operating with fewer workers than usual and following safety guidelines, labour advocates have said that about 2,000 garment factories have restarted production and that not enough is being done to ensure safety for the four million workers in Bangladesh’s garment industry. "Who will take the responsibility if hundreds of workers become ill?" asked Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity. Ahsan H. Mansur, executive director of the local think tank Policy Research Institute, said that at least another week should have been allowed to better prepare for reopening. "The factories have resumed operations without giving it much thought," he said. "There is a huge risk of virus transmission among workers". In addition, The Financial Express reports that health experts are also criticising the decision to reopen factories, saying that such a ‘premature’ step may trigger a deadlier outbreak. 

The Daily Star reports that BGMEA audits have found that, out of the 147 factories inspected so far, 144 show satisfactory levels of health and safety. The BGMEA spokesperson said that the audit teams have been paying sudden visits to factories in Dhaka, Savar, Ashulia, two zones in Gazipur, Narayanganj and Narshingdi and that the reports are being evaluated on a daily basis.

Cambodia: Media report that Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, has said that the 20% of garment workers’ salaries, that was promised to be paid by the government, has not yet reached the workers. “I’m not sure what is delaying the delivery of the 20 percent the government has promised. I have also been informed that some factory owners will not be able to meet their financial obligation because they have no buyers”, he said. 

Media report that, as garment factories over the country close, workers are left out of jobs with minimal government assistance. Four out of five garment workers hold a micro-finance loan, which now represent a threat to their future, their savings and even their land. A garment worker explains the situation: “What I am concerned about the most is paying the debt, but I still hope that I can find a job and pay it off, bit by bit”.

The Khmer Times reports that the Ministry of Labour estimates that 10,000 garment workers have remained in their home provinces following the Khmer New Year, primarily to look for alternative employment in the agricultural sector. 

Indonesia: An article in The Jakarta Post, written by Andriko Otanga, member of the CCC network, reports that the government’s preemployment card program, which provides access to online training and Rp 600,000 ($40.63) per month, is not in line with workers’ needs. Amidst mass layoffs, what is needed is alternative income, the writer argued. The government should, therefore, consider reallocating the Rp 5.6 trillion from the training budge to direct cash assistance, especially in the month of Ramadan, when basic commodities generally experience price increases. 

Media report that, according to the Indonesian Filament and Fiber Producers Association (APSyFI), 80% of textile companies have halted operations due to cashflow issues. The Association urged the government to provide financial support. “We have cashflow difficulties because even though we have no income, we still have to pay penalties to the state electricity and gas companies while also paying our workers’ social security fees”, the secretary general of the Association explained. The same article estimates that 70% of textile and textile product companies in Indonesia face the very real possibility of permanent closure.

NTUF, May Day Demo

Pakistan: According to reports from the CCC network, yesterday (1 May), a huge demo was arranged in Karachi on the occasion of the International Labour Day, expressing concerns over the government’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak. Workers and unions demanded that social distancing SOPs be ensured in factories and workplaces for workers’ health and safety. Habibuddin Junaidi, from the People’s Labour Bureau, made clear that the reality of the government’s decision to allow many industries to run under standard operating procedures (SOPs) has been the disregard of these procedures by the majority of the country’s industries, putting the lives of millions of workers at risk. Karamat Ali, of the National Labour Council, said that the Pakistani government “has betrayed the workers who are being rendered jobless and also denied of their wages”. Nasir Mansoor, from the NTUF, and Zehra Khan, from the HBWWF, expressed their concerns for governments’, all over the world, misplaced priorities, giving relief to the wealthy classes instead of giving relief to the workers. The demo participants demanded that the dismissal of workers during lockdown be stopped and that all workers, including home-based workers, be given their wages; that factory owners start following the government’s instructions; that foreign loans be spent on social welfare for all; that all citizens be registered with social security institutions; that the budget of health and education be made equal to the budget of defense; and that all anti-environmental projects be halted.

Also according to reports from the CCC network, workers from the TriStar Polyester Factory will receive their salary for the month of April by the 10th of May and no workers will be fired.

In a webinar organized on Labour Day yesterday, workers from formal, informal sectors and the public sector expressed their views over the situation they are facing during the lock down, including concerns over the inability of the government to implement labour laws and the special notifications produced for the protection of wages and employment of the workers during the lock down period. They said that employers are not respecting the notifications issued by different provincial governments for protection of workers' jobs. Representatives of textile and garment sector from Lahore Faisalabad and Mardan districts inform that many thousand workers in the factories from these districts are sacked from the jobs. Homebased workers' representatives from Lahore and Mardan said that due to the closure of the markets workers are not able to get their work orders and they are not even paid for the work done before the lock down. The conditions of home based workers is worsening as they do not have any other income source and their families are facing hunger.

Malaysia: CCC network organization Tenaganita condemns mass raids of migrants and refugees, including minors. Tenaganita notes that those being arrested include many from Muslim communities currently observing the holy month of Ramadan. With reports of these raids spreading, more fear will be stirred among communities of migrants and refugees, deterring them from coming forward to be tested for COVID-19 and to seek further treatment; regressing the efforts by the Ministry of Health to curb the virus.

South Asia: Media report on how the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting South Asia, describing the cases of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Maldives, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan. 

1 May 2020

Bangladesh: Media report that, in the ILO’s latest report “ILO Monitor 3rd edition: COVID-19 and the world of work”, that was published yesterday (29 April), Bangladesh is among the countries that are forecast to face the highest decline in working hours. "The crisis is causing an unprecedented reduction in economic activity and working time", the ILO said, whilst calling for urgent, targeted and flexible measures to support workers and businesses, particularly workers in the informal economy and smaller enterprises. Tuomo Poutiainen, country director for Bangladesh at the ILO speaks to The Daily Star about the importance of protecting workers. 

Meanwhile, an article in The Daily Star exposes the lack of initiative regarding the creation of a database of workers in the country, despite the fact that the Labour Policy 2012 assures that the government will take steps to maintain detailed information on workers. Shib Nath Roy, from the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment, said that “It is not possible to do any list of unemployed during this situation of lockdown”. However, as Kohinoor Mahmood, director of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) made clear, this database is essential, as "there is no way to systematically protect workers in the unorganised sector without a proper database”.

Media report that Obaidul Qauder, Awami League general secretary, announced that garment factories have reopened on a limited scale, as factory owners have been asked to reopen with workers that are already in the capital. However, another article makes clear that nearly a thousand garment factories outside the capital, which resumed operation haphazardly since April 26, have failed to follow the reopening schedule agreed upon, spurring a huge influx of workers to Dhaka and elsewhere amid coronavirus risks. "The factory owners violated their own decision by reopening the factories haphazardly”, Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation said. Supporting this claim, the Dhaka Tribune reports that thousands of garment workers are returning to Dhaka through the Shimulia-Kathalbari river route, in high-risk conditions, in order to report to work. Regarding this situation, a garment worker said: “We received orders through our mobile phones, it says if we do not join our workplaces as soon as possible we will lose the job”. In addition, Reuters reports that a Bangladeshi labour ministry source has said to be worried that the 500-odd reopened factories would not be able to implement social distancing for workers. 

Meanwhile, media report that yesterday’s announcement that workers from garment factories that were closed in April would only get 60% of their monthly salaries sparked protests from labour leaders.

Following the Prime Minister of Sweden, The Daily Star report that the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Sigrid Kaag, assured that her government would ensure that Dutch brands would not cancel orders placed in the Bangladesh garment industry.

Cambodia: The Khmer Times stated that “All is not well in the garment sector”, as Cambodia’s exports of garment and footwear products are expected to drop from 50 to 60 percent in the second trimester of 2020.

Media report that the Cambodian labour rights organisation CENTRAL has made clear that the government’s support measures for workers are not nearly enough. As an example, Patrick Lee, Legal Advisor at CENTRAL, explained that “workers’ monthly rent in Phnom Penh can range from anywhere from $30 to $70, with prices in urban areas outside the city hovering around $30. Along with utilities (exacerbated by Cambodia’s exorbitant electricity prices), accommodation costs alone may use up most, if not all, of the Government allowance, without even considering food. This has severe effects not for only workers, but also young children and elderly relatives dependent on their income.” CENTRAL urged the government to adopt a proper long-term strategy that serves the needs and interests of working people.

Also today, media report that workers’ unions representing over 10,000 workers in Cambodia have requested the government to increase the minimum wage to $250 per month for garment workers, an augmentation of $60 in wage.

India: According to reports from the CCC network, as COVID-19 has completely halted production, in Tirupur, migrant workers and their families are helpless and cash-starved.June 2020

Media report that what is unfolding in Tirupur is particularly relevant because it is highly representative of what is happening in India. Since the government announced the lockdown, things have only gotten worse. Suman, a migrant garment worker working in a factory in Tirupur, made clear that “Though I am employed directly by the factory, I haven’t been paid anything for this month (April)”. He lives with five men in one room and has run out of money to buy food. “They said the lockdown will last 15 days. Then it was extended. Now, my friends here say perhaps trains won’t run for months”, he explained, while saying that, at some point, he feels he will be forced to walk home. 

Myanmar: In a clear case of union busting, all 520 members of a factory union have been dismissed under the guise of COVID-19 related action, at Myan Mode factory, producing for Inditex (Zara) and Mango. The dismissals came immediately after workers requested necessary safety measures be put in place relating to COVID-19. Their request was met with a blatant attempt to destroy the union, and on 28 March the management permanently dismissed 571 workers, including all union members, citing a decrease in orders due to COVID-19. 700 non-union members continue to be employed. In the first week of April, 50 workers walked out of the factory in solidarity and joined union members at a protest camp, these workers have also been dismissed by management. The total number of workers dismissed is 621, and Myan Mode management have repeatedly refused to negotiate in good faith and rejected all demands to reinstate the workers.

Media report that the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population of Myanmar will provide social security benefits for insured workers from factories which are temporarily suspended for COVID-19 inspections. “We’ll pay 40% of the social security fees to them as benefits” the ministry announced. 

Media report that an employee from a shoe factory that employs 9,000 workers has tested positive for COVID-19. This factory has been given permission to reopen on the 7th of May, but trade unions have warned that the factory should have a proper care plan in place for its employees before doing so. Ko Myo Zaw, from the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar, said that “As the the factory has history with a positive patient and, as it is also crowded with a large number of workers, a majority of whom are living at dormitories, some have been warned that they face eviction by dormitory owners if they go to the factory to work. Preparations should be made to manage such consequences”.

Pakistan: Media report that, as the lockdown persists in Pakistan, approximately two million people in Karachi alone have lost their earnings and face serious financial challenges as many industries have remained closed since the 23rd of March. Thousands of daily wagers working in garment factories and textile industries have not received their salaries for the months of March and April. Zubair Ali, garment worker at a factory in the Koragi industrial area, received a phone call from his boss asking him to come to the factory and collect his salary. “When I reached, they gave me the salary and collected the factory ID card from me and informed that the factory was now closed and my services were no longer needed”, he said. “At least 300 people have been fired only from my department of the factory”, he added. Workers from other factories report similar situations. For the factories that do remain in operation, Zebra Khan, general secretary of the Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF), reported that factories are not taking any safety measures. 

published 2020-05-31