Vol. 4 Num 213 Wed. December 31, 2003  

Workshop for welfare funds for low-paid factory workers

A prominent banker yesterday advised NGOs upholding workers' right to look for alternatives to traditional banks for generating small savings and welfare funds for low-paid factory workers, particularly women earners.

"Such schemes are not viable for commercial banks. Banks are for business, they are not charitable organisations," Pubali Bank Managing Director Khondker Ibrahim Khaled told a workshop.

Several speakers including Population Council (PC) Country Director Ubaidur Rob, Executive Dr Sajeda Amin, Project Director Joachim Victor Gomes addressed the workshop. Centre for Policy Dialogue Executive Director Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya chaired the workshop here at Hotel Sheraton.

Moreover, Khaled said deposits with commercial banks would be less attractive in coming days, as deposit rates would start going down from next month and would set at 2 to 4 per cent in the long run.

He recalled how small savings schemes for factory owners, ventured by some banks back in '60s, ended up in mismatch due to less commercial viability.

He suggested that savings with micro-finance institutions (MFIs) or schemes like provident fund, shared by workers and owners, could be suitable and sustainable options for small savings of factory workers.

Since small savers like female garment workers have no access to institutional savings due to absence of interest of commercial banks, Population Council took up a scheme for small savers in 2002.

Initially, Pubali Bank and Prime Bank responded, extending banking facilities on the factory premises once a month and so far opening over 300 accounts. The pilot scheme was taken in six factories in co-operation with the factory owners.

Population Council executive Dr Sajeda Amin said poorly paid women workers in RMG industry have a higher desire to save money, whatever small amount it may be.

Narrating the experience of the scheme, Population Council Project director Victor Gomes said average women garment workers could save about Tk 750 every month from their meager wages after meeting their bare necessities.