Garment workers usually live miserable condition in Bangladesh. They even not see the sun as they enter into the factories before the sun rises and returned home after it sets. They have no residential facilities provided by the factories. They live tiny slums where they need fight for use toilet, share kitchen and sleep hazardous spaces. They pass sleepless when electricity disrupts supply for load management. Despite all those limitations garment workers most of them are female had previously ensured that they can buy essentials and get two meals regularly.
But after the corona pandemic spreads and Ukraine war erupts the global supply chain disrupted and resulted a sharp price hike for essential commodities. The garments workers are now struggling for manage their regular meals. The prices of rice, lentil and vegetables increased manifold during last couple of months.
Due to the unusual income and expenditure gap the garment workers have been staging agitation programs across the industrial zones. The authority have been assuring them that a new minimum wage will be announced by November 15, 2023. Now the question is how much money the wages is standard for the current living condition.
The minimum wage board formed by the government held the fifth meeting on Wednesday without reaching a final decision on new wages for the readymade garment (RMG) workers in Bangladesh. Liaquat Ali Mollah, the chairman of the Minimum Wages Board admitted that the delay in determining revised minimum wages is causing frustration among garment workers.
According to the meeting sources apparel manufacturers is willing to offer workers a 25 per cent pay increase, ignoring the workers’ demands for a nearly threefold raise in the basic salary, which has been a focal point of discontent among the labour force. But the protesting workers are demanding a monthly minimum wage of Taka 23,000 (US $ 208). Unions have raised concerns about the involvement of garment factory owners, some of whom are ministers and influential lawmakers, in setting the minimum wage during previous negotiations.
Regarding the ongoing unrest, Bangladesh Sramik Federation President Shahjahan Khan said, “Typically, I have observed protests occurring after the wage announcement. This marks the first instance of unrest before the wage decision is made.”
The apparel labour union alliance, Clean Clothes Campaign(CCC), has condemned the growing violence against garment workers saying repression during this year’s wage-setting process has reached “unprecedented levels”.
It also points out that while workers are risking their lives to voice their demands, most brands sourcing from Bangladesh “…refused to put out a public statement in support of trade unions’ demand for 23,000Tk, ignoring several requests to do so from trade unions and CCC”.
Worker alliance is calling on all brands sourcing from Bangladesh to condemn the violence used against workers demanding a minimum wage, confirm their commitment to fair pricing, call for the demands of workers and independent trade unions to be heard by the Wage Board and ensure that workers’ right to freedom of association is protected.
In 2018, the crackdown was even more severe. More than 11,000 workers were terminated from their jobs, thousands of cases were filed against named and unnamed workers, and at least 50 workers were arrested. The state and owners saw the crackdown following the wage protests as an opportunity to weed out “troublemakers,” with thousands of workers who were vocal about their rights within and outside of the factories being blacklisted from the industrial belts. According to the Human Rights Watch, police resorted to violence to quell the protests, firing rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons at them, raiding homes of garment workers, and even going so far as to shoot at residents with rubber bullets.
It is a vital question to all stakeholders that how much money is sufficient so that the workers are not staging any protest for wage hike in the next few years. It should be measured the workers demand of Tk 23000 minimum wages is irrational or not. The stakeholders should aware that the workers are human and if they are satisfied their will be congenial atmosphere at working place.
The wage board should recognize the real need of the workers. The owners should consider the workers as their family member. If they consider their opponent their will not be any good industrial practice happens.