Minimum wage boards are known to have failed apparel workers. The ongoing minimum wage review seems to be following the same trajectory. The factory owners’ representative on the minimum wage board proposed an increase of Tk 1,060 from the existing minimum wage of Tk 5,300, which was set more than five years ago. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Associations, as its president said, proposed Tk 6,360 after considering inflation, rising cost of doing business and competitiveness of the industry on global market. The proposed amount Tk 6,360 in minimum wage included the basic pay of Tk 3,600 and its 40 per cent in house rent, Tk 300 in medical allowance, Tk 240 in travel allowance and Tk 780 in food allowance. Labour rights organisations have instantly rejected the proposal as it does not even promise a poverty wage. Since the last wage increase in 2013, prices, of goods and utility services, have increased several times that raised the living cost for workers. In what follows, the allegation that BGMEA has entered into the negotiation to deflect global buyers and labour organisations attention from worker wage issues and its real intention is not to improve the living standards of workers rings true.
In December 2016, apparel workers from the Ashulia industrial belt took to the streets demanding an increase in the minimum wage and some protesting workers also abstained from work. At the time, three labour rights federations including IndustryAll Bangladesh, appealed to the BGMEA for a worker wage increase. Besides, international labour rights monitoring organisations also put pressure on the government and the BGMEA to review the existing minimum wage. Against this backdrop, the BGMEA representative initiated the process to review and adjust the minimum wage in November 2017. However, the board’s credibility was questioned from the very beginning as the labour ministry appointed a ruling party-affiliated labour leader from another sector with no background in the apparel sector as worker representative. Essentially, the board lacks real worker’s voices from the sector. It is apparent from the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies report that the calculations of minimum wage has been more about a matter of negotiation between different stakeholders than about sincere economic analysis. What is proposed in the name of minimum wage, as labour rights organisations suggest, is poverty wage.
In the apparel sector, the poverty wage remained the main factor behind the sustained worker unrest. Rejecting the proposed farcical minimum wage, labour organisations have already announced protests to push for their demand for a realistic wage. The government and the BGMEA must act with sincerity and respect worker’s cause if they want to avoid any unwanted interruption in their industrial activity. They must immediately put a credible worker representative on the board and enter into a meaningful dialogue to negotiate a minimum living wage, not a poverty wage.
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