According to media reports the government is soon going to form a new wage board for the workers in the RMG sector to recommend a minimum wage for the sector’s four million or so workers. The initiative, albeit somewhat late, is a welcome one and we wholeheartedly support the initiative.
One of the few positives the country can boast of is the garment sector which is the second largest in the world after China–a significant achievement for a developing country like Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s impressive economic growth, averaging well over six per cent over the last few years, has been fuelled to a great extent by the export oriented RMG sector.
At the backbone of the industry are the workers the majority of whom are women. The industry has achieved so much because of the hard back breaking labour of these garment workers.
Unfortunately, until now, they have not benefited much from the growth. The statistics while impressive to look at mean little to the millions of workers of the RMG sector who do not have much in the way of job security. They joined this industry with a hope of achieving social security and a meaningful livelihood. Unfortunately their current salary structure is shamefully poor. An average Bangladeshi RMG sector worker takes home less than $40 a month or even less. With unabated inflation this money is pittance compared to the huge profit made by the owners.
At present there are around 4,500 garment factories in Bangladesh, churning out products for Western fashion labels which sell the clothing at many times more the cost price. Unfortunately the multinational retailers have not shown much willingness to contribute towards wage increase. Many industry observers believe that that extra wages can be partially borne by international buyers without significantly harming profitability. These retailers are very familiar with the general working conditions in Bangladesh and their importance to the economy means they can push for improvements in working conditions including increased salary.
Obviously when the new wage board is implemented the garment owners will have to bear the brunt of the increased expenses. However for the long term interest of the sector increased salary in addition to improved working conditions is imperative. We urge all the stakeholders to work in a cohesive manner to ensure that the interests of both the workers and the owners are taken into account.