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Tuesday, June 19, 2012
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Anxious workers look for a notice on the closed gates of a garment factory at Ashulia to know when they might be able to resume work. Photo: STAR
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Stopgap measures backed up with no permanent solution have made unrests and strikes in the county's apparel industry a common phenomenon, say analysts.

The most visible reason for the unrest is the demand for better wages that would ensure a life of minimum standard for workers amid the inflationary pressure.

According to analysts, there were a lot of reforms in different areas, including the financial sector, but nothing has been done for the labour and manpower industry.

The wage related reasons for labour unrest include mismanagement in the industry, partial payment of salaries, zero pay for overtime, no festival bonus and factory closures without prior announcement.

Besides these, lack of congenial work environment and fire safety measures have also added to the workers' resentment.

Against such backdrop, the owners have now shut down around 300 garment factories at Ashulia, on the outskirts of the capital, failing to tackle labour unrest with the help of law enforcers.

“Protests and unrests are inevitable if there is no regular pay hike,” said Zaid Bakht, research director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS).

He said the government had an important role to play here as the industry was fully export-oriented. On the other hand, he said, workers' agitation was obvious as they work for small pay despite significant hike in living and housing cost.

“We try to calm the unrests down on a temporary basis. It is time we set up institutional mechanism to address the workers' issue,” observed Bakht.

In June 2010, garment workers agitated for two weeks for an increase in the then monthly minimum wage of Tk 1,662. Before that the industry's monthly minimum wage was last raised in 2006, after a mass revolt.

After lengthy negotiations since 2006, the minimum pay scale was finally set at Tk 3,000 and was implemented from November 2010. But workers found their wage package inadequate by the time and took to the streets again.

Other than wage and over-time payment, lack of proper fire security has also created some sort of dissatisfaction among the workers.

In February 2010, a total of 21 workers died in a fire at Garib and Garib sweater factory in Gazipur, adjacent to the capital. The fire started around 8:45pm on the second floor of the seven-storey building and spread quickly to the other floors containing inflammable materials. The incident created a sense of insecurity among the workers of other factories.

All these incidents harmed the garment industry as well as the country. But the latest unrest in the industry would not only decrease export competitiveness or lead to losing of buyers but also deepen the ongoing domestic economic crisis, analysts say.

Export grew only by 7 percent, to $ 21.98 billion, in July-May compared to that of the same period last year while the month-wise exports in May declined by 4.13 percent to stand at $ 2.2 billion from that of the same month last year.

In the last three years, export grew 21.2 percent on an average.

So, a further plunge in exports could hit the economy, said Salehuddin Ahmed, former adviser of the central bank.

“The garment industry is a major contributor to foreign exchange and is already in pressure. If exports go down, foreign exchange reserve will be affected,” said Ahmed.

He feared frequent unrests in the RMG industry could force buyers to look for other markets such as Sri Lanka, Vietnam and India.

“It is unfortunate that there were no reforms in the manpower and labour industry in Bangladesh,” said the former governor. He said labourers have poor rights, benefits and protection here.

The BIDS director said if the government doesn't initiate to form some kind permanent platform to address the labour issues, this sort of unrests would continue to occur.

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But, on the part of managers , it is insight or hindsight ?

: RNY

Garment sector is an important way to earn a main portion of foreign currency of our country. But the sector is not in constant vigilance. The workers are given very low salary so that they have to fight against the random uprising prices of foods and other commodities to survive their lives. On the contrary, the owners dream to be a billionaire in the shortest period time. In this critical situation Government should come ahead to conciliate between the two groups regarding the perfect solution and continue the function of the industries.

: Sanjib

Comments

  • Abul Karim
    Tuesday, June 19, 2012 02:03 PM GMT+06:00 (383 weeks ago)

    If the owners do not want any increase of the wages, the only alternative the government has is to encourage and welcome foreign investors to invest in clothing and textile industries.

  • Sellma
    Tuesday, June 19, 2012 01:50 AM GMT+06:00 (383 weeks ago)

    Look how thin these workers are so is it not obvious that they get a paltry wage whilst the management and owners take a majority of the profit! Its high time that Bangladesh raises minimum wage to Taka 6000 a month with increases each year in line with inflation only then these agitation by workers will stop.

    Its time the fat garment factory owners share their gains fairly with workers.

  • rch
    Tuesday, June 19, 2012 01:51 AM GMT+06:00 (383 weeks ago)

    Workers are treated like slaves and the owners are floating on dollars ---it is bound to happen. Treat the people with respect and provide financial incentives like dividends, health insurance, production bonuses, etc. Happy workers will fight to save their organizations and that is the long term investment. Bangladeshi businessmen only look for short term return at any cost just like our Deshi policy planners; no vision or sense of direction.

  • Saif Khalid
    Tuesday, June 19, 2012 02:05 AM GMT+06:00 (383 weeks ago)

    Description of the situation makes Ashulia seem like a classic Company Town.

  • Abul Karim
    Tuesday, June 19, 2012 05:54 AM GMT+06:00 (383 weeks ago)

    It is rationale to demand wage rise as garment factory's earnings are gone up at least 20% because of appreciation of dollar since the last settlement of minimum wages. If the labour cost is 50% value adding to total cost of making garment, the garment worker should legitimately demand 10% wage rise, let alone the case of inflation.

  • Zakir,Narsingdi
    Tuesday, June 19, 2012 10:18 AM GMT+06:00 (383 weeks ago)

    The government should take initiatives to stop increasing the house rent. RMG owners can build up houses for their workers, or else it can provide the workers with the transportation facility. If these could be done the RMG workers' crisis will be solved automatically.

  • kkdas
    Tuesday, June 19, 2012 10:42 AM GMT+06:00 (383 weeks ago)

    Yes, you can raise the salaries to Tk 6,000, the problem is there will be no one to pay as the factories will shut down at that cost level.

    People who are commenting that salaries can easily be increased from Tk 3,000 to 6,000 are simply have no clue about the Industry. If someone thinks that garments factory owners are making 100% profit and awash with dollars, they are simply living in ....'S paradise.

    At the salary level of Tk 6,000 for a completely non-skilled workers, manufacturing cost( without any profit whatsoever) for a dozen of jeans will be USD 20-22. Not even 1% of the buyers (not even brands like Levis, GAP, HNM) today pay that kind of price.

    Non-branded buyers today pay USD 10-14 for a dzn of such product. If we increase price, they will simply take off and leave for other countries. There will be no work and hence no pay.

    Only gradual increase in salary is the solution, which majority of the factories are doing.

  • Mohammad Nurul Hoque(Alam), Malaysia
    Tuesday, June 19, 2012 09:17 AM GMT+06:00 (383 weeks ago)

    Only one thing I tell to the workers... Just look behind the Adamjee Jute Mills, what happened their? Where are the workers' leader? If mill closed... You will suffer....


 

 

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