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A recipe for fresh disorder in apparel industry

THAT the new pay scale for workers in nearly 40 per cent of apparel factories in Dhaka and almost all in Chittagong is yet to be implemented although factory owners agreed to put it in effect from December 2013 perhaps explains why the employer-employee mistrust simmers on in the export-oriented apparel sector. Moreover, as the inspector general of the industrial police warned the state minister for home affairs at a meeting on Tuesday, according to a report published in New Age on Friday, law and order might deteriorate in the industrial areas with deprived apparel workers taking to the streets. It is worth noting here that the new scale was agreed upon in November 2013 following series of meetings involving representatives of the workers, the factory owners and the government. It is also worth noting that the workers begrudgingly accepted the minimum pay of Tk 5,300 as they had been clamouring for more, so did the factory owners who had initially proposed a 20 per cent increase on the previous Tk 3,000.
A vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association was quoted in the report as trying to attribute the failure of so many factories to pay the workers according to the new pay scale to the two disasters that the sector suffered, namely the fire at Tazreen Fashions on November 24, 2012 and the collapse of Rana Plaza, which housed five apparel factories, on April 24, 2013. He also claimed that factory owners had incurred a huge amount of losses in the past two months as frequent blockades and general strike scared buyers, causing a decline in orders and prompting them to move to other countries. There is hardly any reason to refute his observations and conclusions.
However, in the first case, i.e. the industrial disasters, it is essentially the factory owners’ criminal negligence that is to blame and many workers in the ill-fated factories had to pay for such negligence with their lives. Moreover, the factory owners and their association have not quite been forthcoming when it comes to adequately compensate the victims of these disasters and their family. In fact, according to another report also published in New Age on Friday, the committee on compensation for Rana Plaza victims has revised the damages decided earlier by Tk 5 lakh to Tk 14.5 lakh at the behest of the BGMEA.
Overall, the factory owners have hardly appeared sympathetic towards the workers in general. As such, the workers would have hardly any reason to be sympathetic towards them for the financial hardship they may be going through. Overall, as the inspector general of the industrial police fears, the apparel sector may be looking at a fresh spate of labour unrest, which could be disastrous.
In such circumstances, it is imperative that the factory owners need to take workers into confidence and explain to them the reason for the delayed implementation of the new pay scale. Meanwhile, the BGMEA needs to make the defaulting factories begin payment in accordance with the new scale as soon as possible and also the arrears accrued thus far.

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