COVID-19 Crisis Implications for the RMG Sector: Trade Union Responses—A Rapid Study

As a result of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in other countries, international buyers started to cancel their orders to the RMG sector of Bangladesh in early 2020, affecting approximately 2.28 million workers. While some of the trade unions have asked for a shutdown of the factories from the beginning, others collaborated with government bodies and BGMEA to ensure that the factories remain opened and people were given protection, safe working conditions and protection of their jobs and salaries. This study attempts to understand the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the ready-made Garments (RMG) industry and its workers, majority of whom are women, through the lens of the trade union leaders and to identify the role of the TUs in negotiating the rights of the workers with different industry actors during the crisis. In-depth qualitative interviews with 20 TU leaders were conducted for this study—10 female and 10 male members from plant-based unions and national federations of different political affiliations. In addition, secondary data was collected from research reports, newspapers, and other printed and digital sources. While the pandemic made it more difficult to organize and communicate because of barriers to mobility and the dispersion of workers, unionists have made the most of cell phones and digital technology. Trade union workers seem to have good access to government representatives, the industrial police, local government members, Labour Directorate, and DIFE. However, unions have been struggling to influence the provisions around health and safety in the workplace. Despite their struggles, trade unions have been successful in ensuring that these issues have been kept at the forefront of public attention, especially with the media as an important ally.

Authors: Sultan, Maheen; Chowdhury, Kabita; Naim, Sayada Jannatun; Hossain, Md Shanawez; Islam, Mohammad Sirajul; Huq, Farah
Type: Report
Year: 2020