North Macedonia reimposes curfew; Covid-19 cases spike in textile factories in Stip

Amid a second rapid rise in Covid-19 infections in North Macedonia, much of the country is being subjected to another tough 80 hour curfew, starting on Thursday night (4 June, 2020).

A full lockdown is enforced in the most critical areas: the capital, Skopje, and the towns of Shtip, Tetovo and Kumanovo. Curfews there will start at 9pm on Thursday and last until 5am on Monday. The same tough measures will apply to another 7 rural municipalities: Lipkovo, Bogovinje, Brvenica, Tearce, Zhelino, Jegunovce and Karbinci. In the rest of the country, the government has reintroduced previously-scrapped evening curfews, which start at 9pm and end in the early morning.

Covid-19 spread among textile workers in city of Stip

On 28 May, the first garment factory in Stip was closed due to two workers testing positive for Covid-19. That day, 130 workers were put in self-isolation. On 1 June, a decision was made to close 5 garment factories and begin screening all employees. The buses on which the workers are transported were pointed out as the biggest risk for transmission. The city of Stip is under a full 80 hour lockdown, but in the past three months the curfew was not a reason for garment factories to stop production. A permit for movement was provided for textile workers over the curfew hours, and they were requested to come to work, even sometimes over the public holidays.

Taking into consideration that textile factories were operational throughout the coronavirus crisis, civic organisations and the Municipality stated to the government that none of the textile factories should work during the curfew. On 4 June, this initiative was accepted and for the first time during the pandemic in the city of Stip, it was ordered that all textile and shoe factories must shut down during the extended weekend.

The sharp resurgence of Covid-19 cases among textile workers over the past week (after the country reduced the number of daily infections to single digit figures) is likely due to several factors. Unsafe transportation and ‘loosening discipline’ at some of the textile factories related to providing disinfection and compulsory wearing of face masks mainly contributed to establishing Stip textile factories as a Covid-19 hotspot.

Textiles is an essential industry in Stip, and over 40% of the industry’s capacities are located there. After several warnings of the potential severe spread of the virus among the factories, not all employers were decisive in sending workers on paid leave. They did however introduce higher measures of hygiene. The employers are concerned that closing the factories will harm the business relationships with international brands and it will cause huge financial crises for everyone.

Garment workers’ experiences over the rapid spread of Covid-19 infections in the factories

Although the government made the initial decision to close 5 factories (and since 5 June, 8 factories) not all factories respected this decision. Workers were required to be tested and after the test was taken, workers were required to continue with the production process. The environment in the factories with identified infections is not safe and it is a risk for every worker to keep working in unsafe working conditions. Workers are afraid to refuse work as some of the employers are intimidating workers, threatening that if there is no production, there will be no income, since many international clients will move their production to other countries.

This is not the first town where Covid-19 infected workers in the textile factories have been identified. In the last three months, at least three other garment factories were closed in the country. Media articles were published in which some workers commented that those who showed symptoms were not allowed to be absent from work and had to stay and work under unsafe conditions. On the one hand, workers must protect themselves from contracting the virus. On the other hand, they need to work in the factories to feed themselves and their families.

We encourage our member brands to follow the Fair Wear guidelines for members. Furthermore, we expect to provide more support to suppliers with the understanding of any changes or delays in production taking into consideration flexible delivery dates, payment terms, and financial liability.