7 November 2020
There’s no denying Bangladesh’s emergence as the apparel manufacturing powerhouse – Bangladesh is the second largest apparel exporter globally – has a lot to do with its readily-available and affordable workforce.
However, it is also to be noted that notwithstanding the availability of manpower, labour-related issues have been plaguing the industry on and off for quite some time now. The last widespread workers’ agitation being witnessed was related to the demand for new minimum wage which brought the industry to a standstill. Government’s timely intervention, however, brought things under control.
The industry has been operating without any major hiccups ever since. But that was only till the coronavirus pandemic hit to throw everything off track. Large-scale order cancellations by global buyers rendered many garment manufacturing units shutting down for good that left thousands of garment workers without any source of livelihood. To add to which has been the fear amongst garment workers (those still employed) of contracting the dreaded disease in workplaces amidst apprehensions of lay-offs and retrenchment.
In such a scenario, keeping them motivated and engaged gainfully, ensuring their health and safety while also improving the workers’ skillsets that may help complement the owners’ effort to cut cost and increase efficiency to maintain business viability in such trying times have become paramount.
As expected, the role of HR managers is in the limelight again!
“This, really, is a very challenging situation. Such circumstances come once in a century or so… this is a life-time experience for all of us,” said Bodiuz Zaman, General Manager – Admin, HR & Compliance, Laila Styles Limited.
Despite being actively involved toward managing the human resources for long, the added responsibilities that the pandemic has brought for the HR personnel was something new and had never been a part of regular HR practices, admits Bodiuz, who went on to add that in the immediate aftermath of COVID-19, the biggest challenge was to ensure the workers’ safety.
“For their well-being, we took all possible steps including incorporating additional infrastructure like installing large-capacity hand washing stations, disinfection chambers (for employees, visitors and vehicles), providing PPE, maintaining cleanliness of workplace and workers’ resting areas, ensuring social distancing, creating health awareness and ensuring regular hand wash,” said Bodiuz, adding medical and the HR teams combinedly carried out various programmes to build awareness while also providing consultancy and other support to the needy.
For the expectant and new mothers, extra precaution was taken at Laila Styles’ Day Care Centre to keep the mother and child safe.
Similarly, SQ Group, which has a large family of 17,000 people, introduced several steps like implementing the WHO guidelines towards prevention of coronavirus at workplace, 100 per cent and regular check-ups of workers by in-house doctors, free online doctor consultations, emergency helpline for SQ employees, establishing handwashing stations at various points within the factory premises, distributing Vitamin C supplements to all, etc. are among the many steps the company undertook, explained Amena Hoque Urmi, Senior Executive – Training and Development at SQ Group.
Health and safety of the workers being taken care of, the next step was to motivate them and ensure their skill upgradation.
Motivational sessions were very regular to make them aware of the existing situation both in terms of health and economic implications, said Bodiuz Zaman. On the other hand, Amena underlined that for the SQ Group, training took a whole new dimension in view of the pandemic.
“Earlier, trainings were mainly aimed at building capacity and efficiencies, but this time during this pandemic, we realised how a training session could resonate with a person’s life and livelihood,” Amena underscored.
Orders are very limited, so if productivity and efficiency are not high, overhead cost will increase significantly (like overtime), which would not augur well for business, Bodiuz explained.
So, to increase productivity and efficiency, Laila Styles undertook both ‘On Job’ and ‘Class Room’ trainings. If operators and quality checkers were given On Job trainings followed by tests to evaluate them against the set criteria to find the level of improvement, staff members underwent classroom training and tests to assess their level of understanding as well.
“These helped us to find both their capabilities as well as limitations, and thereby helped us to segregate them as per their talent and capacities. This subsequently helped improve the performance by right placement and balancing,” Bodiuz further elaborated the training efforts.
However, such all-out efforts by HR professionals at their respective workplaces also had emotional implications which affected their personal lives as well, but rather than allowing those to prove as stumbling blocks, they took on the challenges head-on.
“Being a working mother with a toddler, balancing office and home in this pandemic situation was not easy. While I was working to ensure my people’s health and safety, I also had to be very cautious about my little one. The fear and worry about your own health and the health and safety of your loved ones back home are very stressful. I had to motivate myself to keep going every day. Sometimes, it was difficult to concentrate and it affected the mental health. But every time I was down with worries, I motivated myself saying ‘I am a fighter and I’ll win this battle’,” Amena concluded the conversation on a positive note.