THE government and apparel factory owners have often ignored rights of the workers and their economic survival, the latest being the most recent wage board decision on apparel worker’s wage. The board, as New Age reported on Wednesday, has decided on Tk 8,000 in minimum wage for workers, ignoring all the objections and recommendations that trade union federations and factory owners made. The board on October 8 officially notified the recommendation for the amount ion minimum wage for the lowest-grade workers and sought, in writing, objections, if any, to it or suggestions on the matter in 14 days. Several trade union federations submitted their objections by the time, rejecting the recommendation of the board and sought an increase in the wage. Meanwhile, factory owners sent at least 300 applications seeking a substantial decrease in the proposed wage. A review of the objection letters is mandatory part of the wage negotiation procedure. After the institution of the board in November 2017, rights organisations alleged that the board did not work with the interest of workers in mind and the fact that board has finalised the wage circumventing an important step proves that allegation.
The wage board’s credibility had been 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 lacked 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 stakeholders than about sincere economic analysis. What is proposed in the name of minimum wage, as rights organisations suggest, is a poverty wage. Labour rights organisers speculated that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association entered into the negotiation to deflect global buyers and labour organisations’ attention from worker wage issues and its intention was not to improve the living standards of workers. In view of national elections, the ruling party has supported the BGMEA move to review the minimum wage to woo working-class voters; a realistic, liveable wage was not the concern. It will, therefore, not be mistaken to suggest that the minimum wage board has failed apparel workers.
It is now public knowledge that the prevailing lack of political commitment on part of Bangladeshi exporters and the government to ensure a living wage and workplace safety placed the industry in a competitive disadvantage compared with other Asian countries. More importantly, the poverty wage remained the main factor behind the sustained worker unrest in the sector. Therefore, for the apparel sector to earn a competitive edge in a rapidly changing global industry and to avoid any unwanted interruption in their industrial activity, the wage board must act with sincerity and review the objection letters from labour organisations and propose a living wage considering the increase in prices of goods and utility services in the past years.
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