Behaviour of management with workers in the readymade garment sector of Bangladesh has worsened in 2015-16, according to a recent survey report.
Awaj Foundation, a local non-government organisation, and Consulting Service International Ltd, a Hong Kong-based consultancy firm, jointly conducted the survey between November 2015 and March 2016 and released the report on Monday.
The survey found that 91 per cent of workers irrespective of their gender were under abusive conditions in the RMG sector, while it was 61 per cent in 2013.
The survey report titled ‘The Workers’ Voice Report 2016’ said that the NGOs interviewed 1,007 workers to evaluate the working conditions in 333 textile and garment factories in Bangladesh.
In 2013, about 40 per cent of 1,000 surveyed workers from over 300 factories had said they had never faced or heard about any abuses in their factories.
According to the study report, most of the abused workers suffered abusive behaviour on a regular basis and abuses remained a common feature in the Bangladesh’s RMG sector irrespective of minor changes in frequency.
The report said that factory managers and line supervisors were reported to have verbally intimidated and pressed workers to complete orders by using foul languages and scolding including sexual insinuation.
Workers complained that they were forced to work overtime or when unwell just to meet production targets.
According to the report, the factory authorities denied workers maternity and sick leave, prevented them from using toilet and delayed the payment or did not give wages at all.
Very few of those who experienced abuses opposed such untenable conditions.
According to the study, 11 per cent of the respondents complained to the administrator and 8 per cent of them protested against abusive behaviour while the overwhelming majority of 67 per cent remained silent because they were afraid of negative reactions from the accused and the factory management.
High rental costs consume a significant amount of the workers’ monthly wage, the report observed.
This is an enormous financial burden on the workers as they pay more than Tk 2,500 for their accommodation from an average salary (without overtime) of Tk 6,183, it said.
The survey said that the garment workers worked on an average 10.06 hours a day and thus had little time to spend outside the working environment.
‘The business model of Bangladesh’s garment industry rests on young, unmarried female workers from rather rural and poor families with little education. Low-skilled workers can be easily replaced, which increases the employee turnover that entails substantial implications for productivity. While the industry is quick to adapt, the daily work on assembly lines has kept garment workers in monotonic, painful and mind-paralysing routines,’ the report said.
It said that the workers were concerned about the education of their children and dreamt of building an own house or starting an own business.
The report said that low wages of labour had been the major driver of the country’s RMG sector competitiveness after the phase-out of multi-fibre agreement.
The average monthly income of the survey’s participants was Tk 6,183 which is below the national poverty line, the report said.
The study said that the minimum wage was not paid to all the workers interviewed.
Data showed that 7.6 per cent of the workers earned less than the legally-set minimum wage of Tk 5,300 excluding overtime.
‘I completely disagree with the survey report. The working condition of the labourers in the RMG sector have improved significantly in last three years and the rate of abusive behaviour with the workers is insignificant in the sector,’ Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told New Age.
He said that the minimum wages for the workers were set considering the capacity of the industry and most of the workers were happy with the current wages.
Nazma Akter, general secretary and executive director of Awaj Foundation, however, said that the survey unveiled the facts and figures and all stakeholders including the government, owners, workers and buyers should have to come forward to address the challenges identified.