Female workers in the readymade garment factories in Bangladesh have been deprived of the benefits they are entitled to as per law concerning maternity leave and childcare rights, according to a study.
The study titled ‘Maternity Rights and Childcare in Bangladesh: A Study of Workers in the Readymade Garment Sector’ found that most of the female workers surveyed did not know about their legal rights regarding paid maternity leave and that many factories represented in the survey did not adhere to the national legal requirements for paid maternity leave or onsite childcare facilities.
The study, which was published on October 15, observed that a significant number of day care centres located in factories were used only during buyer visits to give the illusion that the factories complied with the legal obligations and the workers’ children were given accommodation at the centres on a regular basis.
The study revealed some factories also hired local children to populate the centres during buyer visits.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, however, differed with the study saying that the findings were not acceptable as the RMG factories were going through a continuous monitoring process over compliance issues.
US-based Fair Labour Association, a combined initiative of universities, civil society organisations and leading global brands, in collaboration with the Awaj Foundation conducted the survey on 88 women workers aged between 21 and 30 in 12 factories located in five zones of three districts including Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj.
The study found that almost all workers knew that the factories offered maternity leave but were unaware of the amount of leave they were legally entitled to.
The workers said that the benefits were provided arbitrarily and might depend on the goodwill of the welfare officers, managers, and factory owners, the report said.
Among the workers surveyed, 66 per cent said that the factories gave maternity benefits while 33 per cent said that the benefits were not provided.
The study also found that many factories had set the eligibility limit for availing maternity leave and benefits much higher than the legal limit (six months of employment at the factories) and therefore deprived many female workers of these benefits.
According to the report, 83 per cent of the surveyed workers said that their factory management gave maternity leave and 14 per cent said there was no such provision in their factory.
Respondents reported that the workload and pressure to meet targets were the same for pregnant workers as others.
The report showed that 25 per cent of the respondents were given some form of accommodation during pregnancy according to their needs and 16 per cent had to sit on a stool.
Twenty-one per cent said that pregnant workers had to remain standing at work for long hours and did not receive any accommodation.
Although 75 per cent of the factories provided day care services as per the law, only 13 per cent of the respondents said that these facilities were functional and most did not know the eligibility requirements to enrol their children in these facilities.
‘If a factory does have a day care centre, it may limit the age of the children allowed to attend in contradiction of the law. Often the age limit is three months, six months or one year,’ it found.
According to the Bangladesh Labour Act, factories with more than 40 workers are required to provide suitable childcare accommodation for workers’ children up to the age of six.
BGMEA senior vice-president Faisal Samad said that the observations made in the study were not true as ensuring maternity benefits and childcare was mandatory for the factories to run their business.
He said that all the export-oriented factories were actively working to ensure local and international standards of labour rights.
Faisal said that factory owners had no scope of skipping the compliance rules as monitoring from the government and buyers remained active in the sector round the year.
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