Apparel workers are driving the country’s readymade garment industry’s growth but their healthcare is largely ignored, experts and industry insiders said on Tuesday.
Speaking at a seminar at the capital’s Dhaka Club, they said that more than 60 per cent of the country’s 40 lakh apparel workers were young women and they faced challenges in accessing healthcare.
They suffer from various ailments including reproductive and maternal complications, anaemia, diabetes, pain in the backbone, skin diseases, respiratory problems and cancer, speakers said.
But they face challenges in having access to affordable and quality healthcare, they observed.
The lion share of the country’s export earnings comes from the RMG sector that brought in $34.13 billion in the fiscal 2019, according to the Export Promotion Bureau.
The RMG sector grew by 11.50 per cent in the fiscal year, according to the EPB.
Speaking at the seminar, experts said that the garment factory owners should provide health insurance to the workers in order to increase their output as ensuring their healthcare would increase their productivity.
Dhaka University’s Institute of Health Economics director Syed Abdul Hamid noted that health insurance was one of the ways to ensure universal health coverage but Bangladesh could not introduce it since 80 per cent of the country’s workforce is in the informal sector.
Health insurance can be initiated in formal sectors like the RMG sector, he viewed.
Leading French retail group Auchan Retail’s retail and compliance manager for Bangladesh Syful Alam Mallick said that the buyers valued wellbeing of the workers and health insurance was an effective way to ensure their wellbeing.
‘Unfortunately they are not covered by health insurance though they are the main resource of the industry,’ he noted.
Health ministry’s Health Economics Unit director general Shahadat Hossain said that despite the constitutional obligation the government could not ensure health for all.
‘Health insurance for the apparel workers by the owners would complement the government’s task,’ he said.
New Age editor Nurul Kabir said that the government was responsible for ensuring health and other basic needs of the citizens but the citizens could not compel the government yet to ensure the rights.
He pointed out that some private entities like the Diabetic Association of Bangladesh, which initiated healthcare coverage for apparel workers under an insurance programme, and some young people were working for people out of their commitment.
‘This is praiseworthy,’ he observed.
He further said that the life style and the livelihood should be in a way that protected health and prevented diseases.
‘The work environment, work time and what we are doing as work are crucial in keeping us safe from getting diseases,’ he observed.
At the seminar, the Diabetic Association of Bangladesh and apparel factory Lexel Knitwear signed an agreement aimed at health insurance of garment workers.
Under the agreement, a worker can obtain healthcare worth Tk 25,000 from the DAB health facilities for an annual premium of Tk 1,020. Fifty per cent of the premium will be paid by the factory owner while the other 50 per cent by the Weave Our Future Foundation, a concern of the Auchan Retail.
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