RMG workers must be freed from debt burden03 May 2021
Bangladeshi workers in
the readymade garment sector suffered a 35 per cent wage cut during the
lockdown period amid the coronavirus pandemic last year. The sector has
been hit hard due to a number of factors, including market closure,
delay in shipment, delayed payment for products and more. This has made
the workers entangled in debt, says a new study.
The study, jointly conducted by UNDP and California University's Chowdhury Centre for Bangladesh Studies and the Institute for Human Rights, revealed the various risks faced by the readymade garment industry workers, women workers in particular, during the prevalence of coronavirus. The study urged the business community and all others to work together to face the challenges ahead in order to ensure sustainable development of the sector, which had adverse impact on workers rights to food, health, housing and even life. It also recommended that proper application of the law to reduce the risks faced by the workers due to the spike in coronavirus transmission.
The study is drawn from in-depth interviews conducted between October 2020 to February 2021 with senior executives from international brands, Bangladesh suppliers, representatives of international civil society and Bangladesh labour activists. The study said that the present Covid situation should be tackled on the basis of previous experience. Although the government mandated that furloughed workers be paid 65 per cent of their salary for the first three months of the pandemic, union representatives claimed that many workers did not get paid as promised. Referring to another survey by the Centre for Global Workers' Rights (CGWR) between 21 and 25 March 2020, it said 72 per cent of furloughed workers had been sent home without pay. It also found that 98 per cent of buyers - many of them big clobal clients - had refused to contribute to the cost of partial wages for employees, which was required under Bangladeshi law.
As Bangladesh's second lockdown is underway, the study findings offer a cautionary note on how brands and supply chains should respond. Lessons must be learnt from experience so that Bangladesh's second lockdown, now underway, causes least harm to those who suffered the most the last time. Garment workers entangled in debt must be freed from the burden.