Much lower wage for highest export earnersMoloy Saha and Mohiuddin Alamgir
Workers in the apparel sector, which is the highest export earner, rank the 20th among 29 sectors having legal monthly minimum wages effected or revised since 2007.
Of the 38 sectors having set minimum pay, wages in five were effected between 1983 and 1994. Wages in four of the sectors are calculated on a daily work basis. There are four other sectors were minimum wages have been proposed.
Officials at the labour and employment ministry and in the wage board said that the highest minimum wage, Tk 9,882, is three times the minimum wage of Tk 3,000 in the apparel sector, which not earns the highest foreign exchange from export but is also the largest of the 38 sectors in employing workers, mostly female.
The minimum wage in the tannery sector is Tk 8,750 across country and Tk 9,300 in divisional headquarters. Such wage for workers in the oil mills and vegetable products sector is Tk 7,420.
The minimum wage in the private transport sector is Tk 6,300, in automatic re-rolling mills Tk 6,100 , in semi-automatic re-rolling mills Tk 5,200, and in manual re-rolling mills Tk 4,600. The wage in the cold storage sector is Tk 6,050, almost double that in the apparel sector.
Workers of the rice mill sectors get Tk 5,520 in the minimum monthly wage, workers of the glass and silicates sector Tk 5,300 in divisional headquarters and Tk 5,000 in district headquarters. Workers in the homoeopathy sector get Tk Tk 5,201 in their monthly minimum wage.
The minimum wage for the plastic industries sector is Tk 5,100, the printing press sector Tk 5,000 in divisional headquarters and Tk 4,650 in district headquarters and Tk 4,450 in upazila headquarters, the ship-breaking sector Tk 4,625 and the ayurvedic sector Tk 4,350, the aluminium industries Tk 4,350, cotton textile industries Tk 4,250 in divisional headquarters and Tk 3,460 in district headquarters, the iron foundry and engineering workshop sector Tk 4,240, the saw mills sector Tk 4,120, the pharmaceutical sector Tk 3,645, the soap and cosmetic sector Tk 3,300.
Labour leaders said that workers in automatic pharmaceutical industries, soap and cosmetics units, oil and vegetables product mills and many other sectors were less labour-intensive than garment industries.
The apparel sector in about 5,000 factories employ about four million people and fetches about $20 billion a year.
According to a recent study of the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, the living cost of a worker has increased 2.5 times since the implementation of the last wage board award for the apparel sector on November 1, 2010, the institute’s assistant executive director Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed told New Age.
Labour leader Shahidullah Chowdhury, also president of the Trade Union Centre, said that the given minimum wage for apparel workers was not acceptable.
Minimum wages are interpreted as the minimum requirements for a family of an entry-level worker. What an entry-level worker is paid in local industries is not at least a living wage, he said.
Jahangirnagar University teacher, economist Anu Muhammad, said that the minimum wage of apparel workers could not be justified by by any economic theory.
The wage is unacceptable as it is a third of the living cost of apparel workers, he said.
If the minimum wage of garment workers is increased three times, it could even then be less than wages for apparel workers in the neighbouring countries.
Razequzzaman Ratan, general secretary of Samajtantrik Sramik Front, said that owners of apparel factories should increase wages of workers in their own interest. The productivity will increase if the workers remain healthy.
He said that although the workers were contributing to export earning, they were getting the lowest pay among apparel workers in the world. The per hour average wage of an apparel worker is 18 cents in Bangladesh, 40 cents in Nepal, 44 cents in Sri Lanka, 48 cents in Pakistan, 51 cents in India and 86 cents in China.
Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Sramik Oikya Forum, said that the minimum wage of apparel workers should be increased to Tk.8,000 a month. Workers should get Tk 17,000 in gross minimum wage a month.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association president, Atiqul Islam, said that the minimum wage of workers did not depend only on them and a minimum wage board on the apparel sector sets the wages after discussion.
The minimum wage in shoe factories is Tk 1,385 a month, in river transports Tk 1,320, in filling stations Tk 812, in match industries Tk 751 and in type foundries Tk 521 — all effected between 1983 and 1994.
Minimum wages have also been proposed for workers of jute press and baling, private jute mills, rubber industries and the private sector employing unskilled workers. Minimum wages for four other sector have been set on daily or work basis.
The government on June 6 set up a six-member minimum wage board with retired district judge AK Roy as its chairman for the apparel sector.
Criticisms grew at home and abroad over the pay and perks and workplace safety in apparel factories after a fire at Tazreen Fashions in November 2012 which left at least 112 people dead and the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza building, which housed five clothing factories, at Savar on April 24 leaving more than 1,100 people, mostly garment workers, dead.
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