Employer-worker at two poles
Farhad Chowdhury: In the garment sector, the employer-employee is positioned at two poles with the lowest wages. As time goes on, the conflict between the two sides increases. This conflict became apparent in the last meeting. Meanwhile, this time the labor unions have taken a tough stand demanding fair wages. In addition to the discussion, the workers also continued their agitation on the streets. Therefore, in view of the national elections, those concerned are worried about labor dissatisfaction.
Earlier, in the fourth meeting of the last minimum wage board, the owners proposed a minimum wage of Tk 10,400. However, the labor side gave double that is Tk 20,393. On the other hand, the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) has recommended setting the minimum wage at Tk 17,568. The board is under pressure with proposals from three parties. The Chairman of the Minimum Wage Board, Liaqat Ali Molla, commented that the gap has become too much especially in the proposals of the owners and workers.
Labor unions complain that workers in Bangladesh’s garment sector are still getting the lowest wages compared to competing countries. Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines and Pakistan are currently major competitors in Bangladesh’s manufactured garment sector.
According to the pro-labor proposal, workers in Vietnam get $191 dollars, $165 dollars in India, $157 dollars in Myanmar, $200 dollars in Cambodia, $243 dollars in Indonesia and $110 dollars in Pakistan. There is only $75 dollars in Bangladesh.
However, the owner says otherwise. If the buyers do not increase the price, it is not possible to pay the wages as per the demand of the workers despite the desire of the owners. For this, the owner’s organization Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) wants the cooperation of international buyers. At present, the minimum wage of garment workers is Tk 8,000. This new wage was announced on September 13, 2018. According to the announcement, the worker’s basic salary is Tk 4,100, house rent is Tk 1,500, medical allowance is Tk 600, travel allowance is Tk 600 and the rest is taken from food and other sectors. Earlier in 2013, the minimum wage of garment workers was fixed at Tk 5,300.
As per the Labor Act, the wage structure has to be reviewed every five years. The latest wage structure was re-evaluated in September 2018 and the new wage structure was announced. Accordingly, the new wages were supposed to be fixed in September itself. In the fourth meeting of the board formed to review the minimum wages of garment industry workers, the proposal made by the employer-employee side, the wage gap in the two proposals is Tk 10,000.
Meanwhile, the CDP has recommended a minimum wage of Tk 17,568 for workers in the garment sector. Through a survey, the organization has recommended this new salary structure in keeping with the demand of garment workers and inflation. The organization feels that industrial owners will not be pressured to implement the new wage if garment buyers pay an additional 7 cents per piece of clothing.
According to CPD’s research, which surveyed 228 workers and 76 factories, workers in many factories did not receive the minimum wage announced in 2018. Even if the workers are working in a grade, they do not know how long it takes to get promoted to a higher grade. The study also found that workers do not know where to complain if they do not get paid.
Regardless of the demands of the workers and employers, the workers’ wages will ultimately be determined by the Minimum Wage Board. The Wage Board aims to determine the new wages for these workers in the garment sector within this year. If that is the case, after five years the salary of garment workers is going to increase again. Earlier, the last increase in the wages of garment workers was in September 2018, which was effective from January 2019. Accordingly, the workers are expecting the new salary to be effective from January 2024.
But the people concerned do not think that the differences in the proposals of the two sides will be resolved immediately in two meetings. On the other hand, both the employers and workers are adamant about their proposals.
Chairman of the board Liaquat Ali Molla said, “In our fourth board meeting, both the workers and the owners have submitted their proposals. We have had a preliminary discussion on this. A detailed discussion will be held in the next meeting. The minimum salary offered by the owner is Tk 10,400 and the labor side has given Tk 20,393.
He also said that he will reach a consensus by discussing this in detail on November 1. Meanwhile, we have said that the gap between the proposals of both parties has become very large. Talked about bringing it closer. Coming to a reasonable ground will facilitate our decision. Siddiqur Rahman, the owner’s representative and former president of BGMEA, said that the garment sector is a labor-intensive industry. Auto machines do not work here. Therefore, it is not necessary to increase the salary as desired. Owners must also survive. Apart from this sector there is more formal sector, there is no monitoring. Why only in garments? We offer inflation-adjusted prices. This one sector alone is giving something to the country. Everyone should keep an eye on that sector so that it is not damaged.
Sirajul Islam Roni, the president of Bangladesh National Garment Employees League, representative of the workers, said, I have presented this proposal in the board meeting after discussing with various labor organizations. In accordance with the way the cost of living has increased, proposals have been made to improve the quality of life of workers. The workers want to see the finalization of the new salary structure within this year, so that it can be implemented from January. Liaquat Ali Mollah is the chairman of the six-member committee to determine the minimum wages of garment workers. The neutral member of the board is Dr. Md. Kamal Uddin, Professor of International Business Department of Dhaka University.
Bangladesh Employers Federation Deputy Secretary General Maqsood Belal Siddiqui is representing the owners. The member representing workers on the board is Jatiya Sramik League Joint General Secretary Sultan Ahmed. Siddiqur Rahman, the former president of BGMEA, is representing the owners of the ready-made garment sector. And the representative of the workers employed in the garment industry is the president of the National Garment Workers’ League, Sirajul Islam Roni.
15 injured in clash between police workers in Savar
At least 15 workers of several readymade garment factories were injured in a clash with police at Hemayetpur in Savar yesterday.
Dipak Chandra Saha, officer-in-charge of Savar police Station, said workers attacked a number of garment factories at Padmar Intersection in Hemayetpur demanding a minimum basic salary of Tk 23,000.
On information, police rushed to the spot and used tear gas shells to disperse them, triggering a clash that left 15 workers injured.
A chase and counter chase took place during the clash.
A tense situation was prevailing in the area over the clash.
Additional police forces have been deployed in Savar and Ashulia garment factory areas to avert further violence.
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