Thursday, February 21, 2019 12:34:17 AM
Naimul Haq :
Although Bangladesh has made remarkable recent strides like building green factories and meeting stringent safety standards, garment workers here are still paid one of the lowest minimum wages in the world. While the fashion industry thrives in the West, the workers who form the backbone of the 28-billion-dollar annual garment industry in Bangladesh struggle to survive on wages barely above the poverty line.
According to Oxfam, a top fashion industry CEO earned in four days the lifetime pay of a factory worker. Meanwhile, annual export earnings in Bangladesh from the industry grew from about 9.3 billion dollars in 2007 to 28.6 billion in 2016. Encouraged by the growth, Bangladesh has set a target of exporting 50 billion dollars' worth of apparel annually by 2021, yet the vision mentions no plans to improve workers' living conditions.
Out of Bangladesh's 166 million people, 31 percent live below the national poverty line of two dollars per day. The current minimum wage for a factory worker is 5,300 Taka (about 64 dollars), up from 3,000 Taka in 2013.
As the world's second largest ready-made garments producer, Bangladesh attracts top labels and companies like Pierre Cardin, Hugo Boss, Wal-Mart, GAP and Levi Strauss, mostly from North America, Europe and very recently Australia, seeking cheap labour.
After the tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, which took 1,134 lives, top buyers gradually increased investment in infrastructure to as much as 400 million dollars in the 2015-16 fiscal year alone to ensure safer working conditions.
However, local industry owners have failed to make corresponding improvements to their workers' quality of life, 85 percent of whom are women.
Research by the international aid group Oxfam shows that only two percent of the price of an item of clothing sold in Australia, for example, goes to pay the factory workers who made it.
The picture is even worse when it comes to living, food, transport, healthcare and education for the 4.5 million workers employed in about 4,600 vibrant factories. The Oxfam report revealed grim poverty conditions and calculated that a top fashion industry CEO earned in four days the lifetime pay of a factory worker.
There are a number of issues at play, including lack of unity among the 16 trade unions, political pressure by the industry owners, loopholes in the national labour laws and misunderstanding about practical living wages and theoretical minimum wages.
Nazma Aktar, President of the Sommilito Garment Sramik Federation fighting for women's rights in the garment industry for over three decades, told IPS, "Most buyers have a business perspective on the ready-made garments industry here in Bangladesh. Their interests are widely on exploiting cheap labour.
"The wages should be fixed on the basis of human rights and not negotiate with what the entrepreneurs can offer. Wages are not part of a business, which is why globally it has set obligatory fees like covering cost of basics - living, food, healthcare, education and transport."
The garment workers' organisations are demanding Taka 16,000 (about 192 dollars) as the minimum monthly wage, citing rising costs of living. In January, the government formed a panel to initiate what it says will be a permanent wage board and promised to issue recommendations in six months. The unions also plan to seek pay grades depending on the category of worker.
Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Project Director, RMG Study Project and Research Director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told IPS, "The disturbing low wages still paid to the RMG (Ready-Made Garments) industry workers is largely due to lack of clear definition of wages in the labour laws. As a result, it is very difficult to negotiate raise in wages for the workers."
Moazzem, who also led a team of researchers in conducting a detailed study titled New Dynamics in Bangladesh's Apparels Enterprises: Perspectives on Restructuring, Up-gradation and Compliance Assurance, says, "There are nine indicators of wages as defined in the labour law. Unfortunately, except two, the rest are not made public.
So it seems that the laws are themselves very complex and misleading on how to define what is low and what is high income. In such a situation we suggest following International Labour Organisation's (ILO) set definition of wages."
Dr Nazneen Ahmed, a senior research fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), told IPS, "Wages in Bangladesh are still the lowest of major garment manufacturing countries. A large proportion of the RMG products of Bangladesh still can be categorized as low-end products and so the brands continue seeking low-cost labour, though they are unskilled."
Ahmed, who carried out a detailed study on improving wages and working conditions in the Bangladeshi garment sector, explained that while a higher wage for workers is desirable, they would lead to gradual loss of the RMG market in the days of global competition. A sudden increase in wages would also trigger other industries to seek wage hikes.
"I suggest a separate pay scale for the RMG sector workers which would have a separate wage board to suggest the increases. But most effective would be to have a regular system of yearly wage increases according to rate of inflation. At the same time, we should also look at increasing production of the factory units by enhancing the skills of the workers who will be paid higher wages.
"Therefore I refer to as having a technology advancement plan. If the 'skilled' workers are capacitated through regular skill development training programmes, the entrepreneurs would then be able to make more profit and so in such situation I believe the industry owners would not hesitate to pay a higher salary."
Towhidur Rahman, General Secretary of the IndustriALL Global Union, Bangladesh Chapter (IBC), told IPS, "The minimum wages fixed for any worker at entry level is absolutely unacceptable. I don't blame the [industry] owners for this. I rather hold the union leaders responsible for their lack of unity and one voice for this situation.
The demand for minimum wages should be realistic for survival of any human being."
Rahman says, "Sadly, today we have 16 RMG workers' organizations that have separate voices and ideologies. For such reason the entrepreneurs take advantages of lack of understanding among the workers representatives."
Rahman explains that they proposed Tk 16,000 as minimum wage to the newly formed wage board based on a number of surveys which suggest that a worker requires a minimum of Tk 19,000 for food, shelter, transport, healthcare and other basic needs.
"I believe this is very practical and fair proposal as it is merited with evidence on a minimum living standard," says Rahman.
Dr Zahid Hussain, a lead economist in the South Asia Finance and Poverty group of the World Bank, told IPS, "Most people naturally focus on wages as a cost of production for business.
The significance of wages as a cost is one component of what economists call 'real unit labour cost"'. This is the cost of employing a person in terms of the value of the goods and services a business would produce. It depends on two things.
The first is the real wage - the purchasing power of the worker's pay packet, which brings into play prices of goods and services.
"The second is the productivity of the worker - how much the worker produces over a given time," he explained.
"The real cost of employing a person over time depends on how these two things change. If productivity is growing, then the real wage can grow without an increase in the real cost of labor for business. But productivity also depends on investment. Changes in technology that allow for greater productivity are often embodied in the new plant and equipment that firms invest in.
"What governs investment? A simple answer points to the expected rate of return on the investment relative to the cost of capital.
So the bottom line is the following: just increasing minimum wage without addressing the constraints on investment and its financing will most likely kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. The whole issue of ensuring a better quality of life for the workers needs to be approached holistically such that productivity increases in tandem with wages."
Siddiqur Rahman, President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told IPS that the industry has been offering minimum wages to factory workers considering inflation and efficiency of the workers.
"We do not do any injustice to any of our workers," Rahman insisted.
Sports Reporter :Despite Sabbir Rahman's century Bangladesh lost to New Zealand by 88 runs in the third and last One Day International (ODI) match at Dunedin in New Zealand on Wednesday. New Zealand clinched the ODI series 3-0.Sabbir hit a marvelous 102. His 110-ball innings was laced with 12 fours ...
THE nation solemnly remembers the supreme sacrifice of the valiant souls who laid down their lives to establish the right of our mother tongue Bangla as the state language of Pakistan on this day in 1952. As the pioneering movement that led to our ultimate independence, Ekushey invokes the emotional ...
Reuters, Ramallah, West Bank :The Palestinian Authority (PA) will no longer accept tax revenues collected on its behalf by Israel following its decision to trim the sum over the PA's financial support of militants' families, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said.The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, an interim self-government body set up following ...
Actress Kriti Sanon is all set for a superb 2019 with Luka Chuppi, Arjun Patiala, Housefull 4 and Panipat. The characters the actress is essaying are strong-minded and confident as she is drawn towards such empowered characters. Kriti’s role in Bareilly Ki Barfi as Bitti was that of an independent ...
GAS explosion has become very common in the country nowadays. Even if someone escapes death, the victim has to suffer burn injury or loss of valuable organs. The authorities concerned still did not take any effective step to control such incidents. In the latest incident, seven people including a couple ...
Malaika Arora, who is recently making headlines for her relationship with Arjun Kapoor and the couples social PDA, recently opened up about her divorce with Arbaaz Khan on a radio show. Talking about her divorce she revealed that it was a mutual decision to part ways so that they could ...
Reuters, Islamabad :Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday Pakistan was ready to cooperate with India in its investigation of a deadly bombing in the disputed Kashmir region last week, which India blamed on Pakistan, but warned of retaliation if attacked.Tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors has risen sharply over the ...
ABOUT one lakh students have applied to the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE) of the Primary and Mass Education Ministry for reexamination of their results, claiming that justice will be established if the authorities work properly. Some of students who failed in the examination alleged that they did not get ...
AP, Washington :Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said in an interview that aired Sunday that a "crime may have been committed" when President Donald Trump fired the head of the FBI and tried to publicly undermine an investigation into his campaign's ties to Russia. McCabe also said in the ...
Sheikh Arif Bulbon :Actress of present generation Moury Salim has been engaged with acting for many days. Though she has been busy with acting for long time but could not get the opportunity to work in challenging roles properly or the directors did not utilise her acting quality appropriately. On ...
BBC Online :Real Madrid missed the chance to go second in La Liga as Girona came from behind to record a surprise away win on Sunday.Casemiro powerfully headed in from Toni Kroos' deep cross from the right wing to give the hosts a first-half lead.Cristhian Stuani's penalty made it 1-1 ...