New gross minimum wage for beginners far too insufficient for apparel workers

Published: 01:10, Sep 21,2018

 
 

Five labour leaders spoke out on these issues in an interview with Rashad Ahamad


Shamsun Nahar Bhuiyan
Workers’ representative at Garment Workers’ Wage Board

If the workers and their leaders were united, I could negotiate from a stronger footing to increase the minimum wages for the apparel workers.
I am not unhappy that the minimum wage was set at Tk 8,000 per month following intervention from prime minister Sheikh Hasina.
But I would be happier if their minimum wage was set at Tk 12,000 per month.
I would like to congratulate prime minister Sheikh Hasina as she finally interfered and took a speedy decision.
I was sticking to my stand for fixing the minimum monthly wage at Tk 12,020, but considering the practical conditions in the sector I compromised.
There was no pressure from the owners but the weakness facing the labour unions was that the 40 lakh apparel workers and their leaders were divided. If they were united I could bargain from a stronger footing at the wage board to fix a higher minimum wage.
As we were weak I agreed when the prime minister proposed Tk 8,000 as the minimum wage.
But the decision cannot make everyone happy. It is impossible. But overall, I feel happy that we could fix a better minimum wage for the workers in short time.
Workers should consider that many factories are yet to implement even the previous minimum monthly wage of Tk 5,300.
Also that all the factories don’t have the equal financial capacity to implement the new minimum wage and continue production.
When many educated people are unemployed in the country where uneducated garment workers would get jobs if factories close down.


Kazi Ruhul Amin
Executive President, Garment Workers Trade Union Centre

Setting garment workers’ minimum monthly wage at Tk8,000 increasing it from Tk 5,300 is nothing but farcical as well as cheating the workers.
Government and factory owners claim that workers wage was increased by 51 per cent but in reality it was 36.67 per cent wage hike over the basic wage of Tk 4,100.
It is very inhuman that the government fixed the gross wage keeping basic wage low.
But the basic wage is more important as it would the other benefits are calculated on the basis of basic wage.
For example, a worker putting in 120 to 150 hours overtime work would earn more if she or he get higher basic wage.
Workers are in darkness what actually happened.
They would realize what happened only after drawing wages at the new rate.
The government used mathematical jugglery to deceive the workers.
In 2013, minimum gross monthly wage was set at Tk 5,300 and the minimum basic wage at Tk 3,000.
Adding five per cent increment annually increased a workers basic wage to Tk 3,872 in 2018.
And in 2018, the government fixed the minimum basic wage at Tk 4,100. It means the minimum basic wage increased by only Tk 228 per month.
The workers did not realise what actually happened but certainly they would understand it after drawing wages at the new
rate.
Everyone should be ready to see strong reactions.
The government should review the new minimum wage.
One should not forget that workers were on the streets demanding Tk 10,000 as the minimum basic wage and Tk 16,000 as the minimum gross wage.


Taslima Akhtar
President, Bangladesh Garment Workers’ Solidarity

The government has disappointed garment workers by setting minimum monthly gross wage at Tk 8,000 ignoring their demand to fix the gross minimum wage at Tk 16,000.
It happened with prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s consent.
Considering the capacity of the industry, global market situation and the prevailing cost of living, garment workers and labour leaders had demanded fixing the gross minimum wage at Tk 16,000.
But the government fixed the wage at half of what was demanded.
On behalf of Garment Sramik Odhikar Andolan, representing 12 unions, I reject the new minimum wage and demand a thorough review of it by the government and the owners immediately.
What we had demanded was less than the what a human being needs for sustenance in the current market only considering the owners ability. But the government and the owners gave even much less than that.
But the government gave several benefits to the apparel factory owners including corporate tax holiday and source tax exemption.
Does it mean that the factory owners would spend taxpayers’ money to pay wages to workers.
The workers would never accept it they will go for a united movement to realize liveable wages.
Government declared the wage before the general election for reaping electoral benefits. The government snatched workers’ right to expression in the industrial belt.
I repeat, Tk 8,000 as the minimum wage is extremely inadequate. In the interest of keeping the workers productive it is necessary to fix the minimum monthly wage at Tk 16,000.
Owners declared that in 2021 the garment sector would be $50 billion earning industry.
How the goal could be achieved on the 5oth anniversary of independence by denying the workers the minimum liveable wage.
We would ask the government to review the minimum wage.


Nazma Akter
President, Sommilito Garments Shromik Federation

By fixing Tk 8,000 as the minimum monthly gross wage the government fixed the minimum basic wage at Tk 4,100 per month only to deceive the workers.
There has been no increase in the basic wage but only some of the allowances have been increased.
And the minimum wage has been fixed only for the beginners.
And the number of workers in the other grades formed an overwhelming majority of garment workers.
My suspicion is that when the pending wages are increased prices of all consumer goods as well as house rent would go up to deny the workers the benefits of wage hike.
The government has to keep essential price spiral and house rent under control.
My experience says that after any wage hike factory owners bring pressure on workers to increase their hourly productivity and if they fail their overtime and attendance allowance would be deducted. And many workers would be sacked on these grounds.
I would request to the government to declare new wages for other grades immediately.

Salauddin Shapon
Secretary General, IndustriAll Bangladesh Council

The whole procedure that was followed for fixing and declaring the minimum wage is not at all clear to us even now.
It is the prerogative of the wage board to declare the wages but we saw that the state minister for Labour and Employment Mujibul Haque Chunnu announced it. The state minister declared the minimum wage for a single grade while wage board was formed to fix the wages for the garment workers of all the seven grades. Government fixed the minimum wage at Tk 8,000 but fixed the minimum basic wage at Tk 4,100 which is abnormally low.
Like me all the workers and labour organisations were in the dark about the whole process and the wage fixing activities.
And uncertainties arose over fixing the wages of six other grades. When the government will declare it we don’t know.
IndustriAll Bangladesh Council is monitoring the entire process very seriously. We are not giving any reaction or any programme over the wage issue right now. Let us first understand the facts.
We are waiting to see that wages of the workers in the other grades are declared.

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