Poor wages key challenge to RMG sector: speakers

BGMEA accused of siding with amoral

Staff Correspondent

Inadequate wages, lack of workplace safety and trade union rights, and infrastructural weakness are the main challenges to the country’s readymade garment sector, said economists and trade union leaders in Dhaka on Saturday.
Criticising the role of the government and the apparel sector leaders over the crisis of Tuba Group workers, they said charging baton on the workers was an attempt to deny the lawful demands of the workers.
‘Garment sector will not sustain based on the cheap labour for long and the entrepreneurs will have to invest for enhanced productivity of the workers. But the question is who will enjoy the benefits of enhanced productivity,’ former adviser to the caretaker government Hossain Zillur Rahman said in a dialogue held at the National Press Club.
The safety issue in the RMG sector has been focused following the tragic incidents in the Tazreen Fashions Ltd and Rana Plaza but it is also true that the incidents somewhat benefited factory owners as the source at tax has been reduced, he said.
Zillur criticised the role of the government and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and said a group of good entrepreneurs is working for the betterment of the sector and another amoral group is working for the betterment of their own.
‘The BGMEA represents them who are amoral and who have political influence,’ he said.
Zillur said the BGMEA was the representative of the owners those who are backing cheap labour and creating bad precedent in the sector like Delwar Hossain.
He pointed out that inadequate health, accommodation and transport facilities for the workers were also the big challenges to the RMG sector.
Writer and columnist Syed Abul Moksud said a comprehensive research was needed to identify the real challenges to the RMG sector.
He urged the government and the BGMEA to review the published and unpublished investigation reports on the incidents occurred in last 25 years to identify the way-out of the prevailing problems.
Dhaka University professor MM Akash said lack of trade union rights, proper wages and compensation to the workers who were killed or injured in the workplace accidents were important issues for the sector.
‘To solve the problems a social insurance system will have to be established,’ he said.
Ikteder Ahmed, former chairman of minimum wage board for garment workers, said the wages of the workers had increased five times in the garment sector but till now the minimum wages were not sufficient considering the living cost.
He pointed out that providing minimum wages was the main challenges to the readymade garment sector.
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, senior research fellow of the independent think-tank Centre for Policy Dialogue, said the garment owners had made a tremendous fortune over the years but the lots of workers had not changed much and society as a whole had got a little share of the misfortune.
Taslima Akter, coordinator of Garment Sramik Sanghati, said irregular wages, lack of safety and trade union rights were main problems for increasing productivity of the workers.
The role of factory owners is questionable whether they want efficient workers as the gang of owners and the police jointly attacked the Tuba Group workers who were observing hunger strike for pressing for their three-month wages, she said.
Repression on the workers is main obstacle on the way to enhance productivity of the workers when the owners and the government are out to foil the lawful demonstration of the workers without protecting their rights, Taslima said.
Binayak Sen, research director of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, emphasised on a census in the RMG sector and said without having a database expansion of business was difficult.
Salehuddin Ahmed, former Bangladesh Bank governor, said the growth in the RMG sector was meaningless if the workers did not get its benefit.
Political motivation is a must to resolve the ongoing challenges prevailing in the RMG sector, he said.
Dhaka University professor Shafique uz Zaman presented the keynote paper in the dialogue.
Former BGMEA president Abdus Salam Murshedy, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association vice-president Mohammed Hatem and anthropologist Naznin Shefa, among others, attended the programme.

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