Experts ring alarm bell as female participation in RMG sector dips

Staff Correspondent | Updated at 12:34am on August 31, 2018

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Centre for Policy Dialogue chairman Rehman Sobhan, lawmaker Saber Hossain Chowdhury, commerce secretary Subhashish Bose, FBCCI president Shafiul Islam, Garment Workers’ Trade Union Centre president Montu Ghosh, CPD executive director Fahmida Khatun and CPD research director Khondaker Golam Moazzem are seen at a discussion on the findings of a CPD study held in Dhaka on Thursday. — New Age photo

The participation of female workers in the country’s readymade garment industry has been decreasing in recent years with the share of women workforce in the sector coming down to 53.2 per cent in 2016, according to a study conducted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue.
Experts said that it was alarming that women participation in RMG sector jobs was declining as it would ultimately hit the development of the country.
Companies studied over two years since 2016 experienced a monthly employee turnover of 5.3 per cent with majority of the quitters being female workers, showed the study report released by the local think tank on Thursday.
‘Worker composition has changed significantly over time with employers becoming increasingly interested in employing male workers,’ said CPD research director and also the lead author of the study Khondaker Golam Moazzem.
According to the study, the falling trend in the number of female workers continued for a while as the share of female workers in the RMG sector stood at 53.2 per cent in 2016, down from 58.4 per cent in 2012.
The CPD released the findings of the study titled ‘transformation in the RMG sector in post-Rana Plaza period’ at a daylong programme held at a hotel in the capital, Dhaka.
The study, however, did not link up the falling number of female workers with the Rana Plaza building disaster in which more than 1,100 people, mostly garment workers, were killed in 2013.
‘The finding comes as a shock as female workers had an absolute dominance in the RMG sector not long before,’ said BRAC Institute of Governance and Development research fellow Lopita Huq as she took part in a discussion after the study report was released.
‘Women are losing the largest sector of their employment,’ said Lopita.
‘If it [the trend] continues, it will definitely impede Bangladesh’s development,’ she added.
The study said that female RMG workers faced at their workplace different types of work-related verbal harassment including teasing and rough behaviour, and were confronted with sexually abusive slangs.
It also found wage discrimination on the basis of gender at some factories.
The study also revealed that workers now did not wish to work more than 7.4 years.
Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies senior research fellow Nazneen Ahmed said that only improving working condition in factories might not hold back female workers.
‘There are issues women need to deal with outside factories while staying away from home for work. Women may decide to leave her place of work for many reasons,’ said Nazneen.
CPD chairman Rehman Sobhan said the change Bangladesh and the world as well is seeking to bring in the RMG sector would remain unattainable if workers live in decrepit housing conditions and they lack safety on their way to workplace.
He also emphasised ensuring that workers get a proper share of margin.
The study said that there had been a significant improvement in terms of safe working condition, but technological improvement was slow.
CPD distinguished fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya said that the future of RMG industry depended on how fast it could accept technological advances.
Regarding minimum wage, the study said that it did not increase as required by the law, revised at the latest after the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013.
‘Workers’ average income covers only 49.9 per cent of their total family expenditure,’ said the study.
The fear of losing job is persistent among workers alongside their salary being so inadequate that it prevents married workers from having more than one child, said the study.
According to the study, 47 per cent of married workers have one child while another 27.8 per cent do not have any children at all.
Commenting on the findings on workers’ rights, the study said 40 per cent of workers do not have service book, 25 per cent do not have their employment documents and only 4 per cent get their experience certificate after working at a factory.
The study said that worker organisations remained in either weak or non-functional state as 97.5 per cent of RMG factories did not have trade unions.
RMG factories are run by companies dominated by families, the study said, showing that two of the three directors of about 88 per cent of the companies were from the same family.
A sizable amount of the factories established after the Rana Plaza collapse are still housed in shared buildings, said the study.
Speaking at the programme as chief guest, lawmaker Saber Hossain Chowdhury said that the Rana-plaza disaster was a wake-up call for the RMG sector.
‘But now we don’t want a second wake-up call’.
He urged the garment owners and the government to be pro-active to achieve the $50 billion export target by 2021.
FBCCI president Shafiul Islam admitted that there was lack of trade union activities in the RMG sector but said that workers welfare committees were working to protect workers’ interests.
He said that factory owners remained under a perennial pressure to sustain in the business as brands and buyers take away 70 per cent of the profit.
He said that factory owners were committed to ensure safe working condition. He said that 1,200 factories were closed since Rana Plaza collapse as they failed to improve the condition.
Garment Workers’ Trade Union Centre president Montu Ghosh alleged that factory owners were not willing to improve the working and social conditions of workers.
He called for the owners to train up its management to enable it deal with workers humanly. He criticised the government for failing to regularly review minimum wage.
CPD executive director Fahmida Khatun, its distinguished fellow Mustafizur Rahman, World Bank economist Zahid Hussain, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association vice-president Faruque and Mohammadi Group managing director Rubana Huq also participated in the discussion on the findings of the study.