Bangladeshi readymade garment workers earn poverty-level wages and they continue to work excessively long hours for little money while both the government and the industry fail to protect their interests, according to a study of Fair Labor Association, a US-based workers’ rights organisation.
The report, ‘Toward Fair Compensation in Bangladesh: Insights on Closing the Wage Gap,’ has found that not a single garment worker among the more than 6,000 whose wages were studied, earns even close to a living wage (Tk 13,620).
The report finds the workers’ average wages to be almost 50 per cent higher than the legal minimum wage (Tk 5,300) which is just above the World Bank Poverty Line (Tk 6,784).
The FLA conducted the survey in 18 RMG factories and found that the units set production planning based on assumed overtime while workers earned a lower net wage and worked longer overtime hours.
According to the report, average wages of RMG workers sit just above the World Bank Poverty Line but still significantly below all the living wage benchmarks, with workers on average earning Tk 2,507 (around $30) per month more than the legal minimum wage.
‘To supplement their income, all workers in this study were depending on overtime, which accounts for more than 20 per cent of the average worker’s wages. Half of all workers studied were regularly working more than 60 hours a week, despite the negative effects on worker health and wellbeing of such long hours,’ the study finds.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president Md Siddiqur Rahman, however, said that there was no scope to set working hour for the workers more than 60 as buyers’ representatives always monitored the factories from where they procured.
He also said that no Bangladeshi readymade garment worker received only Tk 5,300 a month but at least Tk 7,500 a month.
Workers in factories with overtime-dependent production were also found to be working more than six days consecutively without a break (in one instance, as long as 19 days), the report says.
The report calls upon employers for a regular workweek of no more than 48 hours, and regular and overtime hours of no more than 60 other than in exceptional circumstances not in the employer’s control.
The study illustrates the importance of strong freedom of association provisions, both at the factory and national levels saying that factories that support worker organisation or participation — in whichever legally permissible form — also tend to provide higher net wages.
The report also says that participation committees cannot be considered a sustainable alternative to functioning unions, and suggests strengthening workers’ right to freedom of association.
In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013, which sparked worker protests across the country, the Bangladeshi government moved quickly to increase the minimum wage by 71 per cent and since then the minimum wage remained static.
The FLA data showed that flat pay combined with rising inflation exacerbated an already daunting wage gap for workers as wages of most of the workers remained closely tied to the current legal minimum wage.
This study stresses that buyers and suppliers must engage in honest dialogue on prices and costing in pursuit of a shared goal of fair compensation for workers.
The study vindicates that buyers and suppliers have a shared responsibility to remediate conditions that result in low wages.
‘Lasting improvement depends on all stakeholders – the government, workers and unions, civil society, and brands and suppliers – stepping up now to play their part in improving wages that are among the world’s lowest for garment workers,’ the report read.
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