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BGMEA Lobbies for Covid Vaccines for Bangladesh RMG Workers

Bangladesh’s garment sector has faced harsh headwinds throughout the coronavirus crisis, weathering both economic damages and high rates of infection in its factories.

Now, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) is lobbying on behalf of its factory owner members to make sure it gets they get a shot at the Covid-19 vaccine. The group learned through media reports earlier this month Bangladesh-based Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd. was importing one million doses vaccine for the private sector, alongside 30 million doses at the government level. The BGMEA is requesting that the company reserve enough doses to vaccinate 10,000 people, including its registered members, BGMEA staff, and their families on a priority basis.

In a letter to the pharmaceutical corporation, the BGMEA detailed the struggles of the country’s readymade garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent of the country’s total exports. In the missive, the BGMEA said that factory owners were putting themselves and their workers at risk to keep the country’s economy afloat. Many factory owners contracted the virus in the pursuit of business, and some lost their lives.

“BGMEA members need health safety protection on priority basis considering their contribution to the economy of the country,” the letter said.

According to a report from Al Jazeera, Bangladesh has received a total of 7 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine from India, including 2 million-worth that were given as a gift from the Indian government. Healthcare workers began administering the doses on Thursday, and they have been allocated primarily to front-line workers like doctors and nurses. As of this week, Bangladesh has recorded 533,000 cases of Covid-19 and more than 8,000 deaths since March.

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What’s more, the damage done to the country’s garment sector, which props up its economy, is worse than previously estimated. According to data released this week by the Centre for Policy Dialogue and Mapped in Bangladesh, as many as 357,000 of Bangladesh’s 4.1 million garment workers may have lost their livelihoods during the Covid crisis—six times the figure estimated in a recent survey.

The number of workers per factory averaged 790 in December, down from 886 one year prior. About 232 factories—which make up 6.9 percent of the country’s total number—have shut down during the pandemic.

Earlier this month, BGMEA president Rubana Huq echoed calls from the group’s factory owner members for the government to extend the moratorium on the salary stimulus package by six months and delay repayment terms by a year. While the central bank of Bangladesh asked the country’s commercial banks to schedule repayments for the third week of this month, Huq said that without a deferment or additional assistance, “the industry will collapse.”