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The garment industry should be protected from all adverse conditions

The wages of nearly 4 million workers have been increased by 51 per cent; but some labour organisations are trying to create unrest among the garment workers
Md Atikur Rahman
The garment industry should be protected from all adverse conditions

Bangladesh is the world’s second biggest apparel exporter with overseas garment sale topping $20 billion last year. The amount is 80 per cent of the total exports of the country.

Most of our garment products go to the United States and Europe. The garment industry employs over four million people, many of them young women. The industry is crucial to the national economy as a source of employment and foreign currency. Some social organisations and trade unions emphasise that our manufacturing formula depends on keeping wages low and restricting the rights of workers. The new wages for the garment sector workers have been implemented since 1 December, 2018. According to the new pay structure, workers will get salary in January 2019. There is a kind of dissatisfaction among the workers since the beginning of the salary structure, which is not desirable.

At present, the wages of nearly 4 million workers working in the country are increased by 51 percent, but some workers' organizations are trying to create unrest among the garment workers, which are not desirable. Although it is being said by the party's political party, "Those who do not want the elections, they are trying to defy the elections in different ways to try to do such illegal activities." Some organizations are trying to create unrest in the largest garment sector in the country. Trying to create dissatisfaction with the excuses, one of them is the new wage.

A large number of women workers work in the garment industry of the country. A large amount of foreign currency was obtained by exporting this sector abroad. There is no end to complacency in achieving this foreign currency. Garments also gave the opportunity for employment of 'women workers' of the country. It is a plus point for the development and progress of the country. The wages of six grade workers have been increased to reduce the ongoing dissonance in the garment sector. On Saturday night, after the meeting of the Minister of Commerce, Minister of State of Labour and Employment and Owners of Garment Industry, the Labour Ministry announced the revised wage waiver. In this, the main wages of workers increased from 10 to 524 taka.

In November of 2018, new workers' wages structure was announced for garment workers. In December, protests and labour unrest started in different garment factories in December. Although the labour unrest was somewhat stagnant due to eleven parliamentary elections, incidents of protests continued in different industries since January 6. Since last few days the workers have been protesting.

According to sources, the wage structure announced in November last year increased the original wage of four workers (4, 5, 6 and 7) among the seven categories. However, in the 3rd grade, the main wage has not increased by 40 paisa. Similarly, 415 in grade 2 and grade no. 405 decreased. However, the dissatisfaction with the new wage structure is mainly for grade workers of 3, 4 and 5.

Garment workers have taken to streets in recent years over wages and safe working conditions. Some trade unions want the basic monthly wage rate to be raised to around $100 or around Tk 8,000. Many international buyers and retailers observe that working conditions in Bangladesh are poor. The European Union has asked Bangladesh to improve working conditions in the country’s readymade garment industries. Though western retailers criticised the poor working conditions, major western brands still place orders. It is true that the buyers of garment products from Bangladesh have become some sort of non-tariff barriers in the way of import of garment products.

They also cannot be blamed in many cases for demanding compliance with issues such as payment of adequate salaries and ensuring safety to workers. Many lawmakers, environmental and civic groups in the importing countries have been making demands on their own businesses to ensure compliance with these standards. We believe the goal of the garment sector should be one of achieving full compliance requirements as well as making their enterprises secure against workers’ wrath by implementing decisions to increase wage and other benefits for the workers at the earliest for long-term security as a whole.

At present, labour unrest is a common feature in our country. It has an obvious effect on disruption of economic activities, which leads to misery and hardship.

The fact is that labour unrest is an inevitable thing during industrialisation. Recently, the garment workers took to the streets, blocked highway, were engaged in clashes with the police, vandalised vehicles, and hurled brickbats at factories. This led to the closure of many factories.

The Bangladesh government and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association can hardly afford dillydallying in this regard. If they do so, the number one export-oriented industry is certain to meet serious setbacks in the days ahead as the negative publicity has started convincing the buyers and affected their import decisions. Encouragingly, the government has set up a panel to raise the salaries of the four million garment workers and approved changes in labour laws, making it easier for them to form labour unions.

The BGMEA has laid guidelines for its members to take steps to maintain safe working conditions in the factories for workers. Already, the BGMEA has formed a monitoring committee to check any problem in the garment units that may erupt over non-payment of salaries, higher wages and other facilities to the workers. The monitoring teams will check any anticipated unrest in 2,000 industrial units in and around Dhaka city.

The BGMEA is also keeping close contacts with the buyers as well as the government. The government should play a proactive role in the interactions between the owners and the workers to avoid troubles. It is also significant for the BGMEA to have a result-oriented dialogue with the buyers so that they pay a little extra for our garment products which they could utilise to improve conditions in the garment factories and pay higher wages.

A number of measures and initiatives, if taken on emergency basis, can help improve the situation. Proper foreign policies are necessary to exploit existing foreign markets as well as identifying potential markets. To be cost competitive and to produce quality items, modern technology and training at all levels of RMG are essential. At the same time for the RMG manufacturers to get maximum benefit, the workers need minimum wage, job security and better working environment. Initiative needs to be taken for improving all infrastructural facilities in the industrial units. Both the government and the BGMEA should work together to overcome the existing problems and save the garment industries for a better economy.

The writer is Head PRO at BGMEA University of Fashion & Technology.  

E-mail: atik@buft.edu.bd

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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