• COVID19, Global Home, Success Stories

Protecting workers, protecting business: Vaccination campaigns in the garment sector

2 Aug 2021

Nationwide vaccination campaigns are at the forefront of COVID-19 mitigation efforts in several of the world’s major manufacturing countries. Garment workers— a category of people that has suffered since the pandemic took hold — are the focus of these vaccination campaigns.

COVID-19 has deeply affected the garment industry’s global supply chain, with disruptions at the local level of exporting manufacturing hubs. Lockdowns, cancellation of orders and suspension of factories affected the lives of employers, workers and their families. In some countries, a mix of public and private-sector vaccination schemes are set to help protect workers on the factory floor, eventually contributing to stabilizing the countries’ productivity.

Still, the current uneven vaccine distribution at the global level is fuelling economic and social problems on the ground, as access to vaccines for many populations in need is being affected by a lack of global manufacturing capacities and raw materials for vaccines. Also, weak healthcare systems and infrastructure at the local level have hampered the rollout, alongside complex political and economic mechanisms, including disagreements over funding for workers’ vaccinations.

Better Work is proud to share a sample of first-hand experiences of vaccination campaigns across some of our country programmes. We talked to workers, factory representatives, nurses, doctors and officials across Cambodia, Egypt, Jordan, Vietnam and Indonesia to offer an update on vaccination campaigns from the ground, highlighting the countries’ efforts in minimizing the pandemic, from their national campaigns to the factory floor.

Vaccination campaigns offer a piece of good news for local workers and businesses, as the sooner the countries’ workforce receives the vaccine, the speedier the economic recovery and return to a regular production process. Most importantly, however, is a return to “normal” life and access to a decent livelihood in safe conditions. Garment workers receive a COVID-19 vaccine shot in a garment factory in Cambodia. Phnom Penh recently announced it would allow all factory workers to take one day off to receive their second jab. Over 125,000 factory workers have had at least one vaccine dose. Emerging from its worst surge of the virus in May, Cambodia is currently leading Southeast Asia in the number of administered doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Almost one in every five Cambodians has already received a dose, according to official numbers.

As Cambodia steps up its efforts to achieve herd immunity, workers queue up to receive their second COVID-19 vaccine shot in one of the country’s apparel factories.

Lun Sengry, 19, an assistant in the Quality Control department in Champtex Co. Ltd, one of Better Factories Cambodia’s affiliated factories, received her second COVID-19 vaccine shot on in late May.

“I was very anxious before the vaccination programme started in our factory,” she tells Better Work. “I kept asking myself when our turn would come and what if our factory got suspended before then. I feel much more confident after having received the two jabs. I can now visit my family and our village community started to welcome me again, no longer fearing that I could bring the virus back home from Phnom Penh, which has the highest number of COVID-19.” Garment workers show their vaccine certificates in a clothing plant in Cambodia.

Sorn Sochea, a clerk in the Quality Control department of Better Factories Cambodia’s affiliated factory Champtex Co. Ltd. tells Better Work he received his first COVID-19 vaccine shot on May 6 and has now received his second.

“I was very afraid to get infected with COVID-19 and spread the virus among my colleagues and family members, so I’ve observed many of the suggested preventive measures throughout the pandemic,” he says. “Still, fears remained. I’ve heard a lot of rumors concerning vaccines and how they might affect one’s health, but after receiving further information from local authorities I was convinced of their safety.” Jamal Ayub, 40, from Bangladesh, works in the finishing department of Needle Craft, a Better Work Jordan-affiliated factory in the Ad Dulayl industrial zone. Shortly after his factory opened the registration process for the vaccination programme, Ayub received his first vaccine dose in a health centre located a few paces from the dormitory he resides in. Over 22,500 garment workers, between Jordanians and migrants – the latter making up around 75% of the total workforce of 76,220 – received at least their first inoculation.

“I’m satisfied now. After receiving the vaccine in Jordan, I encouraged my family in Bangladesh to register for the national vaccination programme,” Ayub tells Better Work. “I only felt a light pain in my hand after the inoculation.” Sua’ad Amin, a nurse in the factory clinic of Needle Craft, gives a COVID-19 vaccine shot to a migrant worker in Jordan’s Ad Dulayl industrial zone. Amin tells Better Work she was “amazed” by the eagerness of foreign workers in her factory to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Amin said many migrant workers were asking her to take their pictures during the inoculation to send to their families back home.

“Workers in general are very enthusiastic about the inoculation programme and often come to the factory clinic asking when they will get their vaccine and what type,” she says. Mohammad Irfan, a compliance manager from Jordan, stands on the factory floor of Needle Craft. Irfan tells Better Work that a couple of days after he registered in the programme of his factory, he received a message with his vaccination appointment.

“I feel secure now,” Irfan says. “We registered between 80-90% of our workers in the vaccination campaign. So far, around 580 workers received their first dose.” Zahra Ali, 36, from Jordan, works in the finishing department of Needle Craft

Ali is the first member of her family to receive the vaccine. She tells Better Work her family was reluctant to register in the vaccination programme, but after witnessing her experience, they decided to join the national vaccination campaign.

“I put my trust in God and got the vaccine,” Ali says. “I only had a few lines of fever after the inoculation. Now, I am looking forward to receiving the second dose.” Workers of the Viet Pan Pacific International Co. Ltd, a Better Work Vietnam-participating factory located in the in Bac Giang province, wait their turn to receive their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine inside the factory premises.

Since May, the northern provinces of Bắc Giang and Bắc Ninh, respectively 60 and 40 km northeast of the capital Hanoi, have been among the epicentres of the new COVID-19 outbreak that is plaguing the country, with factory workers among those infected.

As a result, the government recently decided that frontline forces and workers in the provinces’ industrial parks would receive top priority for inoculations. Vaccines for the workers have been provided by the Health Ministry. Workers of the Viet Pan Pacific International Co. Ltd receive their first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine after their factory was included in the high-priority group of the government-run vaccination programme earlier this month. During a two-day vaccination session, 2,050 employees received their first inoculation.

“Most workers feel safer following the vaccination,” HR Manager Nguyen Thi Tuyet tells Better Work. “I hope the situation will improve soon and that COVID-19 infections will get under control, for the health of the workers and the resumption of normal production. The good health of workers is also a guarantee for stability of production in the long term.” Health workers from the Vietnam Health Ministry prepare their medical equipment and vaccine supplies in the premises of the Viet Pan Pacific International Co. Ltd.

“It cost about 400 million VND (17,350 USD) to carry out COVID-19 tests for all our factory employees,” HR Manager Nguyen Thi Tuyet tells Better Work. “Also, the results of these tests only last two days. We are now planning to complete the second COVID-19 vaccine round by August.” Workers in Better Work Indonesia-affiliated factory PT Sumber Bintang Rejeki

undergo a preliminary check-up before receiving their first COVID-19 vaccine shot in the plant premises.

Indonesia has turned into the latest world’s epicentre of the pandemic, becoming the country with the highest number of new daily infections. The increase is part of a wave sweeping across the region, where vaccination rates are still low, but countries had until recently managed to contain the virus relatively well. Cases and deaths have shot up in June-July, as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads through the country, testing the medical system’s limits. A garment worker receives his first COVID-19 vaccination jab in Better Work Indonesia-affiliated factory PT Sumber Bintang Rejeki.

Indonesia imposed the Emergency Public Activity Restrictions (PPKM) on July 3. The measures, which include tighter travel checks, road closures and the stoppage of non-essential services, are meant to stem the spread of the infection across the country. Still, essential sectors like the country’s huge export-oriented readymade garment industry are working at reduced capacities, employing around 50 percent of their workforce across the factory floor. Factories are trying to adjust to the limitations imposed through the PPKM, while guaranteeing the full respect of COVID-19 health protocols. Still, they are struggling to meet their shipment orders, keep their businesses afloat and keep employees healthy. A nurse carries out a COVID-19 test to identify coronavirus cases in one of Better Work Indonesia-affiliated factories in the country.

As Indonesia grapples with a devastating wave of coronavirus infections, strict health protocols are observed across the country’s production hubs. Despite their financial challenges due to reduced production shifts and order delays, factories are investing heavily in contact tracing and prevention strategies to limit the spread of the virus across the factory floor.  Workers must still observe social distancing and all the precautions recommended by the WHO even after receiving their vaccination shots to reduce the chances of being infected or spreading COVID-19 in the factories. A garment worker receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot in the premises of Better Work Indonesia-affiliated factory PT Sumber Bintang Rejeki. Over 50,000 workers have received their first jab across the programme’s affiliated factories, which employ around 385,000 workers.

Apart from health community clinics and hospitals, vaccinations are also caried out in several other locations, including stadiums, train and police stations, airports, military bases and factories. An average of 2,500 workers are employed in the country’s clothing plants. This private-sector vaccination programme is helping expedite the government’s efforts in tackling the infection.

Indonesia hopes to reach a million doses a day this month and double that by next month, eventually achieving herd immunity by vaccinating two-thirds of its 270 million population within a short time.

A female worker receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot in the premises of Better Work Bangladesh-affiliated factory Sparrow Apparels as part of the vaccination programme for RMG workers.
A garment worker employed in one of the 52 Better Work Egypt-affiliated factories in the country receives his first COVID-19 vaccination jab on the plant’s premises. A Ministry of Health-led vaccination programme started in October, targeting Egypt’s workforce employed in the country’s industrial zones.
Mobile clinics from the Ministry of Health, with a capacity of around a hundred doses each, are providing inoculations to workers on-site. Depending on each factory, between 20 and 80 percent of the workforce employed in companies affiliated with Better Work Egypt have received at least one shot so far, according to the UN programme. The government is planning to vaccinate all workers registering via its website by March 2022.
Workers receive their COVID-19 vaccine shots in one of the Better Work Egypt partner factories. The total number of those who have received COVID-19 vaccines in Egypt have recently reached 42 million, said Health Ministry Spokesperson Hossam Abdel Ghaffar. This number stands for those who are fully vaccinated and those who were given one dose, he said, adding that this number is expected to increase by the end of the year.

Workers receive their COVID-19 vaccine jabs in a garment factory affiliated with Better Work Egypt in November. Since its establishment in March 2020, the programme has performed advisory visits in the factories premises and trained workers and managers on a range of issues, including COVID-19 preventative measures, and have observed their implantation across the factory floor.

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