Typical BGMEA disregard for workers’ well-being
THE resolution of the extraordinary general meeting of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association on Thursday that they would propose not more than a 20 per cent increase in the minimum wage for workers to the six-member minimum wage board on September 17, as ‘this is consistent with the inflation’, and because their expenses have gone up on account of compliance and they ‘are now counting losses’, is hardly surprising but shocking nonetheless. According to a report published in New Age on Friday, the factory owners resorted to their clichéd argument that any further increase in the workers’ minimum pay could lead to the closure of many factories and thus leave a large number of people helpless. They also insisted that the minimum wage should be based on the socio-economic condition of the country and the efficiency of the industry — again, a cliché.
First of all, the RMG factory owners have hardly ever taken into consideration the socio-economic condition of the country when formulating the pay structure for the workers. If they had the minimum pay in the apparel sector, which happens to be the major foreign exchange earner for Bangladesh, would not have been Tk 3,000 a month, the lowest in the world. Secondly, compliance of factories is the responsibility of the owners, and not the workers, and transferring its cost on the workers is simply unethical, more so because the workers have mostly paid, sometimes with their lives, for the non-compliance by many factories — the collapse of Rana Plaza at Savar and the fire at Tazreen Fashions at Ashulia are just two recent examples; there are many more. Thirdly, the owners seem to be asking the workers to bear the burden of the losses but, notably, have hardly shared the profit with them when the business was booming.
Such infuriating propositions ultimately betray the factory owners’ apparent belief that upward mobility is only applicable to the affluent section of society and that the workers are there to shed their tears, sweat and even blood to ensure such mobility. What is even more infuriating is their inflation argument, especially in view of the fact that the minimum wage in the apparel sector has never been even close to what is deemed as living wage. It is preposterous to even suggest an inflation-adjusted revision of workers’ wages when their minimum pay has remained static since November 2010 although their cost of living, according to a recent study, has increased at least 2.5 times in the period.
Such sustained indifference of the owners to the misery of the workers has always been the prime reason for labour unrest in the apparel sector, which the association and the government, whichever party it is led by, have sought to blame on conspiracy by certain quarters. The latest resolution by the BGMEA could also touch off further discontent in the sector and trigger fresh unrest. Hence, the factory owners would be well-advised to come up with a proposition that is honourable enough for the workers to negotiate on.
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