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Industry backlash against BBMP testing of factory workers for Covid-19

An ambitious programme to test all factory workers in the city for Covid-19 has generated a backlash from industries who described the exercise as “wasteful”. 

The programme which is being proactively carried out by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) since September 12 aims to test factory workers for Covid-19 across all eight zones of the city. The BBMP said an assessment had revealed that a large number of factory workers are testing positive for the disease. 

In the Bommanahalli zone, which is home to over 3,500 large-, medium-, small- and micro-scale industries, an order signed by Captain P Manivannan, Special Officer, indicated the prevalence of disease was especially high among garment workers. 

“(They) show a positivity rate of 21% while that of Bengaluru city, the positivity rate has been 13%, and there is a marked increase among workers in factories,” read the order. Garment workers are, however, said to be prepared to work even if they test positive. 

“Workers have no money and they have racked up loans during the lockdown. If the BBMP goes around trying to test workers and send them home, it will face a revolt,” said K R Jayaram, head, Garment and Textile Workers’ Union. 

“Only about 60% of workers have returned to work. There have been rampant layoffs and some 50 factories in the state and in Bengaluru have even shut shop, such as the US giant JC Penny,” he added. 

If workers do not cooperate, “the Labour Department will take action,” Manivannan said. However, the department said it was more focused on convincing workers to take the tests.

‘Dangerous threat’

The BBMP insisted that testing is necessary because there is a serious danger of Covid-19 spreading to all workers in a short time and endangering the city itself. However, the Karnataka Small Scale Industries Association (KASSIA) and the Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FKCCI) dismissed this claim and said fewer factory workers have tested positive recently because SOPs are being followed. 

“This is a wasteful exercise. If they insist on going to factories, they will prompt the workforce to abscond,” said C R Janardhana, president, FKCCI. 

He added: “Nobody has much faith in the BBMP tests. Workers are afraid that they will falsely test positive and be sent to a hospital.” 

Meantime, K B Arasappa, president, KASSIA, said that he had asked the Palike during a core committee meeting two weeks ago to refrain from going to factories.

“We asked that they set up camps in localities where people could voluntarily come for testing,” he said. 

A large ground to cover

According to KASSIA, there are 2.6 lakh industries within Bengaluru Urban and Rural. The BBMP said it had tested about 4,000 workers so far since Unlock 4.0.

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