FILE PHOTO: Bangladeshi garment workers make protective suit at a factory amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dhaka, Bangladesh. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

AT LEAST 10,000 garment workers have been sacked in Bangladesh as Western brands hit by coronavirus lockdowns cancel orders, union leaders said.

They urged the government to step in.

More than $3 billion-worth of orders have been cancelled or suspended, according to factory owners in Bangladesh, one of the world’s top suppliers of clothes to Western countries.

“We found at least 10,000 workers from 37 factories who lost their jobs. The actual situation could be worse,” said Kalpona Akter, founder of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, one of three unions that documented the job cuts.

“These workers won’t get jobs anywhere else for the next two to three months. The factories must take them back and the government needs to ensure this,” she added.

A senior employment ministry official said the government had asked factory owners not to cut jobs.

Bangladesh ranks behind only China as a supplier of clothes to Western countries. The garment industry accounts for more than 80 per cent of its exports and employs about four million people, mostly women.

Hundreds of workers took to the street this week, defying a government lockdown to protest the non-payment of wages, according to police.

The government has announced a $588 million package to help the crucial export sector pay its workers, but labour leaders say that this is not enough.

Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said owners had been asked not to let workers go.

Fashion retailer Primark has pledged to keep paying workers affected by its decision to cancel orders, while H&M said it was working with other companies to support garment workers in the countries that supply its clothes.