Industry Desk: Bulgaria, a country in south-eastern Europe, is hiring skilled manpower from Bangladesh with the promise of handsome salaries. As of now, the European market remains one of the top export destinations of Bangladeshi readymade garments (RMG) products.
But this is the first time that Bangladeshi RMG workers are about to start their occupational journey to a European country.
The move reaffirms the presumption that major brands and buyers in Europe and the United States are shifting their focus to nearshoring and automation.
According to a recent report by the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, global apparel brands and retailers have to ramp down RMG imports from Asian countries in order to sustain themselves.
“This is the first official move to recruit RMG workers from Bangladesh by any European country,” said Faruque Hassan, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
Bulgarian firms took this initiative as most buyers want to source products from near-shore to reduce the lead-time – the time between the initiation and completion of a production process.
“We think everyone has the right to choose a better life. The job offers from the Bulgarian factories will help workers to make a good living. At the same time, we are also training more people to make a skilled workforce”, he added.
He, however, mentioned that a small number of Bangladeshi nationals are working at some garment factories in England.
Primarily, two Bulgarian companies- AntoanVill and Mizia-96AD – are recruiting 100 workers at a salary of $460 (Tk45,000) per month. The recruitment process has already started under the supervision of the Bangladesh Overseas Employment and Services Limited (BOESL).
These companies are looking for proficient workers, especially swing machine operators, pressing machine operators and textile tailors, according to BOESL sources.
The income of an RMG worker in Bangladesh hovers around Tk8,000 to Tk8,420. Those who will be recruited by Bulgaria will earn five times more than they make in the country.
As per the terms of employment, the tenure of the contract will be for a maximum of three years and is renewable every time. In addition to the monthly salary, airfare, a $50 monthly allowance for meals and a separate room for the accommodation of 3-4 people will be provided by the company.
However, electricity and water bills have to be borne by the workers. Compensation for workplace accidents and other matters will be applicable in accordance with Bulgarian labour law.
Both male and female candidates, aged from 20 to 35 years, are eligible to compete in the recruitment process.
The total migration cost is Tk52,740, including the Tk42,000 service charge of BOESL.
According to the stakeholders, BOESL, a state-owned labour exporting company, is charging too much for the migration, just like private recruiters.
Banani Biswas, general manager (Overseas Employment) of BOESL, said, “Even though they are hiring 100 workers at the moment, we are hoping to send more in the future.”
“We have never sent skilled RMG workers to Europe before. Earlier we exported workers to Jordan – a country in western Asia. This is the first time our workers are going to Bulgaria through BOESL,” she said.
On the issue of high migration costs, she said, “The BOESL board determines the cost of immigration. If it is too high, we will raise the issue with the board again for reconsideration.”
According to the terms of employment, a worker has to work for 8 hours a day. Overtime payments will also be provided as per company policy.
Among interested candidates, BOESL is taking vocational assessments every Friday at Bangladesh-Korea Technical Training Centre. Representatives from Bulgaria will select the final candidates through re-examination.
Bulgaria has a long history of being a centre of fashion in Eastern Europe. Located at the eastern edge of Europe, Bulgarian fashion manufacturing has been often compared to the high quality of its Turkish neighbours.
Family-run production facilities pass down hand skills from generation to generation, and this, mixed with new sewing technology, has made Bulgaria a hotspot for apparel and textile sourcing.
Today, garment and textile production remain one of the major industries for Bulgaria, employing thousands in the workforce.
Bulgaria has some of the lowest production costs in Europe, and due to its membership of the European Union, it maintains all ethical and environmental standards.
The Bulgarian fashion segment revenue was an estimated $324 million in 2018.
About 150,000 people are currently employed in the garment and textile industry in Bulgaria, according to Sqetch – an apparel sourcing and product development site.
Bangladesh exported apparel in Bulgaria amounting to $1.79 million in FY 21, while the RMG shipment was $2.27 million in FY 20.
Among the recruiting companies, ANTOAN VILL has specialized in the production of high-quality women’s clothing since 1998.
According to BOESL, it makes a variety of styles – dresses, blouses, tops, jackets, trousers, skirts, etc. It has established long-lasting partnerships with a number of international fashion brands, recognised by consumers in Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Great Britain and other EU countries.
Currently, Bangladeshi skilled female RMG workers are employed in Jordan, with a monthly salary of Tk22,000.
Apart from this, some Bangladeshis also work in Italy’s RMG factories, according to the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment.
“Bangladesh has an abundance of labour in the sector of readymade garments. The workers are aptly skilled. We can look forward to exporting this available manpower overseas. The European market can be an ideal destination for garment manpower export,” said Tasneem Siddiqui, founding chair of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU).
“However, BOESL needs to make sure that this number continues to grow. If we can send at least 10,000 people a year to the European market, it will have a huge impact on remittance inflow,” she added.
Europe, US to reduce import of RMG from Asia
Within 2025, major brands and buyers from Europe and the United States can cut down on their import of ready-made garments from countries like China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, according to a global consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s report titled, “Is apparel manufacturing coming home?”
The report was made following a survey of 180 brands, buyers and executives jointly with the business publication Sourcing Journal.
The report mentioned that tomorrow’s successful apparel companies would be those that take the lead to enhance the apparel value chain on two fronts: nearshoring and automation.
Both must be addressed in a sustainable way. Apparel brands and retailers in Europe and the United States can no longer do business as usual and expect to thrive, the report said.
Foreign brands have made such plans because of the increased cost of production due to the increase in wages in these countries.
Brands and buyers from Europe and US want to manufacture clothing from nearby countries like Mexico and Turkey instead of China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.
They think that they will be able to pick up clothes at their own retail in less time. As fashion is changing day by day, buyers want clothes in less time and at less cost, the report mentioned.
The report also said that it takes 30 days for shipping goods from Bangladesh to Germany, while only 3-6 days are needed for goods to be shipped to Germany from Turkey.
In July-May of FY22, readymade garment shipment saw about 35% growth to $38.52 billion over the corresponding period in the previous year, according to data published by the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).
During this period, Bangladesh’s export to the EU was about $19.3 billion, which is 50.11% of total apparel export, while the United Kingdom and the United States maintain 10.63% and 21.15% shares respectively of Bangladesh’s total apparel export.
The EU’s top 7 export destinations are – Germany with $6.5billion, Spain with $2.72 billion, France with $2.15billion, Poland with $1.82 billion, Italy with $1.42billion, the Netherlands with $1.32billion, and Denmark with $1.03billion.
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