The new wage board has accentuated the fact that, while the readymade garment industry is steadily flourishing, the workers are not receiving their due. The workers demand a minimum monthly wage of 10,000 taka. The wage board fixed this at 8,000 taka and the worker grudgingly accepted this, hoping the various discrepancies would be smoothed out.
However, though the new wage board was announced three months ago in September, neither the government nor the owners have taken any measures to address the problems. The workers have taken to the streets. During the protests, a worker was killed and many were injured. This woke the government up and on Tuesday two ministers held a meeting with representatives of the garments workers.
The main discrepancy in the new wage board is that though the wages of the workers in the seventh grade has increased by 2,700 taka, in the third, fourth and fifth grades it has increased only by 44 to 79 taka. That means the experienced workers are deprived the most.
The increase in wages according to the 2018 wage board has been less than that of the 2013 wage board increase. Under the 2013 wage board, workers wages increased by 5 per cent every year. So in the new wage structure, the basic wage of some workers has decreased, which is totally unacceptable.
The main contention of the workers is that the basic wage has decreased in certain cases. If the basic wage is less, then overtime, festival allowance and other benefits also are less.
Over the last few days there has been labour unrest in Dhaka, Savar, Gazipur and other areas in which property has been damaged and the public has suffered. During clashes with the police on Tuesday, a man named Suman Miah was killed. This is an irreparable loss.
Meeting with labour representatives, the new minister for commerce and the state minister for labour assured them that the discrepancies in the wage board would be addressed in the next one month. They even formed a committee for the purpose, comprising workers and the factory owners. We hope the matter is sorted out within the shortest possible time and normalcy is restored to the sector.
The court has ordered compensation for workers who die in any accident in the factories. This order must be followed in this instance too. It must also be ensured that the owners do not take any action against the agitating workers. In the past there have been innumerable instances of labour leaders being harassed and sacked for creating agitation. Such action must not be repeated.
Bangladesh stands second in the world in garments export, yet its workers are the lowest paid. The owners must understand that growth is not possible by cheating the workers. Despite all hurdles, even last year the export growth of the garment industry was 15 per cent. It is the responsibility of the government and the owners to ensure that these workers, whose sweat and labour has gone into the exponential growth of the industry, must be assured of minimum wages at least.