“The COVID-19 pandemic might have isolated us in many ways, but we never felt more connected with each other than we have during this difficult time,” says Nur Nahar, an Assistant Sewing Supervisor at Epyllion Style Ltd on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka.
After Bangladesh was hit by the pandemic, Epyllion Style Ltd introduced a staff rotation system to ensure a safe workplace for workers and to continue production at the same time.
“It is not about individual health and safety; we are only truly safe when everyone around us is safe and healthy,” says Nahar, who supervises 64 workers on the production floor.
Nahar said at the onset of the pandemic, her factory took necessary health and safety measures, including installing hand-washing and disinfection facilities, ensuring physical distancing and mask wearing, and raising COVID-19 awareness on the factory floor to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections in the factory.
“As a supervisor, the first thing I do in the morning is remind my fellow workers to properly maintain the health and hygiene practices to stay safe from COVID-19,” she said. This focus has had to become a top priority for Nahar as a relatively new supervisor.
Nur Nahar was promoted as a supervisor in September 2019, after a comprehensive capacity building training under Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR), a special initiative of Better Work Bangladesh.
These precautions enforced by Nahar and other supervisors in the Bangladeshi garment industry are essential for an industry that employs over four million workers. The COVID-19 pandemic has made workers particularly vulnerable to elevated health risks. Workers in the industry typically live in group quarters or rooming houses, where three or four people share a room, making them susceptible to virus exposure
“It is also important for us to stay safe in our communities,” said Nahar, who also has been keeping the workers in her community informed about essential health and hygiene tips to protect against COVID-19 at home.
She has used the guidelines provided by Better Work Bangladesh and health authorities to inform and educate, empowering them to take control of their own health and well-being.
Before the onset of the crisis, Better Work Bangladesh started preparing short and long-term plans to support affiliated factories. As part of the efforts, the programme released a number of guidelines, including the COVID-19 Management Guidance document, which helped factories like Epyllion Style Ltd reduce the risk of COVID-19 and take practical measures to navigate the disruptions caused by the crisis.
Nahar said that workers are well aware that the RMG sector in Bangladesh is witnessing unprecedented disruption during this pandemic. The teams at factories have had to work together and maintain morale during the incredibly difficult time.
Despite these challenges, Nahar says, “Workers continue to want to work, and we want to work together to contribute to the efforts to rebuild this sector.”
Creating new career opportunities for women
The Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) program is a strong business case for promoting gender equal leadership and management in RMG factories. IFC research shows that women supervisors’ line efficiency is 5% higher and female supervisors trained by Better Work achieved a 22% increase in productivity on their lines. Learn more from an independent impact assessment.