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RMG workers still fighting for higher pay

Wage Board sits today for review

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08th-Jul-2018       
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Kazi Zahidul Hasan :
The National Minimum Wage Board will hold its second meeting today to review minimum pay for workers ready-made garment (RMG) industry, which accounts for over 80 per cent of Bangladesh's exports.
Currently, the minimum wage for the RMG workers is Tk 5,300 or $68 per month, which is lowest in the world. The monthly minimum wage was raised in 2013 after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex, which killed 1,134 people.
Trade Unions are demanding tripling the minimum wage to Tk 16,500 per month (US$200) considering inflation rate, living expenses, house rent, industry capacity and economic indicators.
"The meeting will discuss a new minimum wage for workers in the country's ready-made garment sector," Shamsun Nahar Bhuiyan, a member of the Wage Board, told The New Nation yesterday.
She also said trade unions want a sustainable wage reform through the meaningful negotiations at the national level. The review should be made taking capacity of the industry as well as increased cost of living of the workers into consideration.
 "I will present a 'logical' outline of new wage structure before the board with full representation of the views of workers and unions," said Shamsun Nahar, who will represent the workers at the meeting.
She said trade union leaders are supporting higher wages for workers and even the government, as they are struggling for low pay. "Negotiations are on with the industry owners to realize our demands."  
When asked, Shamsun Nahar, the Women's Affairs Secretary of Jatiya Sramik League, said, "Buyers and suppliers will also need to work with the stakeholders collaboratively to support higher wages for workers."
"The minimum wage should be raised in a rational way so that it does not pose burden to the industry or deprive the workers," Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, President of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) told The New Nation yesterday.
He said the industry saw an 18 per cent rise in the cost of production in last couple of years due to hike in utility costs. In this context, an irrational wage hike could seriously hurt 'edge' of the industry in global stage, ultimately leaving an adverse impact on RMG exports.
"So, we should consider the capacity of the industry prior to review the minimum wage afresh," he noted.
Mohiuddin, a former President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) further said that the apparel industry is now going through a massive reforms in terms of factory remediation and workplace safety involving huge cost which should also take into consideration while reviewing the wage.
BGMEA President M Siddiqur Rahman could not be reached for comment.
"Trade unions have already raised the demand for raising the new minimum wage at Tk 16,000. It is necessary to help survive the RMG workers," Shamima Nasrin, President of Swadhin Bangla Garment Sramik Federation, told The New Nation.
Justifying the hike, she said apparel workers deserve the pay hike when their living cost is going up rapidly and the industry is taking big shape in terms of exports which reached US$ 30.61 billion in the just concluded fiscal year (2017-18).
"We expect the board will fix a realistic framework of wage structure in line with the recommendation of the workers' representatives," she said.
The government in January formed the wage board led by Senior District Judge Syed Aminul Islam as chairman. BGMEA President Siddiqur Rahman and Shamsun Nahar Bhuiyan are representing the owners and workers respectively. Kazi Safiuddin Ahmed of Employers Federation, Fazlul Haque Montu and Kamal Uddin, a professor of Dhaka University, remain as independent members of the board.

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