IT HAS grown as a habit on the industrial sectors to deprive workers of due wages. About 25,000 jute mills workers are now holding protests demanding their unpaid wages and severance payment. Several apparel factories, including Intraco Sweaters Ltd and MTM Garments Ltd, closed down their units without paying wages to workers. When industrial units face financial crisis, workers bear the brunt as their wages remained unpaid. Industry owners are also disinclined to pay festival allowance in time. And this is happening time and again in the apparel sector. In this context, the industrial police have prepared a list, for the home ministry, of factories where labour unrest could break out over non-payment of wages and festival allowance before Eid-ul-Fitr. As many as 435 apparel and textile units may, as the list says, default on paying wages and allowance. Industrial police officials at a meeting of the home ministry assured that they were working with the factory authorities to avoid any untoward situation in the sector but failed set a deadline for the owner to pay the workers.
Apparel workers are legally entitled to festival allowance. But every year, a good number of factories dither about paying the allowance, which leads to unrest. In 2018, a similar list was prepared by the police which reported about 200 apparel factories to be at risk of paying workers before Eid. A similar meeting was held with a crisis management committee of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association well before Eid with no resolution on timely payment. Consequently, workers took to the streets demanding the festival allowance. This year too, workers have already taken to the streets. While the owners try to justify the delay on the excuse of financial and other constraints, workers allege that factories intentionally withhold the payment until the last minute fearing that the workers would leave for families in outlying areas without making the product shipment deadline. Whatever may be the reasons for this payment delay, the labour ministry should already have a mechanism in place to ensure that workers are paid the dues in time. Labour organisers blame the ministry concerned for the recurring failure of factory management in paying the dues before Eid as they have no leverage over the owners’ association.
Industry owners’ violation of the labour law regarding the timely payment of wages has become a common practice. There has, however, hardly been any instance of bringing factory management to book for failing to perform their duties as employers. This bias is detrimental to resolving the crisis at hand and any long-term improvement in industrial relations. The government should immediately renounce its bias towards the factory owners and ensure timely payment of festival allowance and their monthly wages.
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