An ominous sign is now apparently visible in the apparel sector. It has been alleged that a vested quarter was trying to influence garment workers to agitate ahead of the national elections.
The chief of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) said late last week that by provoking innocent workers to take to the streets, some quarters were trying to make the country unstable, just before the national election.
Addressing a press conference, apparel manufacturers and exporters said workers should come up with their demands, if any, after the implementation of the recently-announced wages. It is not necessary to go for agitation just before the election which is only two weeks away, they added.
Workers of 50 factories, situated mostly in Ashulia and Gazipur, abstained from their work for four days last week. Though the wage board was announced a few months ago, the workers did not initiate any dialogue about the proposed wages or any other matters.
If that is the case, why should they come out to the streets all on a sudden before the elections-- the apex trade body leaders questioned. They claimed that the factory owners have tripled minimum wages of workers from 2010 to 2018.
Apparel analysts say workers' demonstration at this moment is not logical as the adjustment of the new wage structure has not been made yet. They are demonstrating based on rumours only as a section of vested quarters are trying to instigate the workers ahead of the national election.
The garment workers, on the other hand, claimed that the government has brought changes to some conditions that have created scope for the owners to curtail some benefits for the workers. The labour ministry on November 25 announced the new wages and conditions for the RMG workers through a gazette notification setting Tk 8,000 as the minimum wage.
After four days of the announcement, the government brought the changes in through another gazette. In its first announcement, the government had said that if any worker would get allowance or benefit other than wage and allowance set in the wage board, he or she would continue to enjoy the benefit under the section 2(10), 108 and 336 of Bangladesh Labour Act 2006.
According to the corrected version of labour ministry, workers will enjoy benefit other than wage and allowance set in the wage board if it is offered in accordance with Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 and Bangladesh Labour Rules, 2015.
The labour leaders in the RMG sector see such change as an attempt to deprive the workers of benefits. They claimed the government, with this new provision, created scope for the factory owners to cut extra allowances and benefits of workers other than wage and allowance set in the wage board,
The labour leaders believe the new provision in the amended wages is one of the new tools in the newly announced wage structure, which will certainly cut the benefits of workers. Now, trade union organisations would have nothing to say if, under the new provision, factory owners cut the benefits of workers which were not offered in accordance with labour law and labour rules.
There is no denying the fact that the country has come a long way from abject poverty right after its independence. About two-fifths of the economy is now connected with the global economy through trading. the country can now rightfully claim that it has graduated from a predominantly aid receiving nation to a trading nation.
The export-oriented RMG sector has made crucial contribution to such transformation of the country's economy. The role of the entrepreneurs and workers, policy support and incentives provided by successive governments, substantial RMG-supportive linkages have created a history, unparallel in the developing world.
While traditional export sector could not yield expected results, the RMG sector gradually injected dynamism in export as well as in the domestic economy though backward and forward linkage economic activities.
Over the past decade alone, the sector registered a phenomenal growth rate of 15 per cent per annum, which is impressive by any standard. In fact, this was an exceptionally high growth rate for an emerging industry anywhere in the world. Despite many difficulties faced by the sector over the past years, it continued to show robust performance, competitive strength and social commitment.
Within the apparels sector, Bangladesh has been able to accomplish considerable product diversification. The apparel sector has been able to extend its product line lowend products to high value, upend products. Some brand items have also emerged where substantial value is being added to both the export earnings and the local value retention.
Analysts say the ongoing trade war between China and the US will bring more work orders and more foreign direct investment for the garment sector of Bangladesh. The country is expected to benefit by acquiring a larger share in exports to the US, and thus attracting more investment.
The flagship annual report of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) titled the Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report (Aptir), unveiled last week in Bangkok, says developing countries in the region continue to attract investment in labour-intensive sectors, particularly the garment industry. Bangladesh's textile and apparel sector received $422 million in FDI in 2017, which is 1.0 per cent higher than a year earlier, the report said.
The upward trend was recorded despite lingering concerns about the sustainability of the country's garment sector. The report apprehends bad impact on the Asia Pacific economy if the trade war prolongs. The US-China trade tensions have also begun to disrupt existing supply chains and dampen investor confidence, as evidenced by the deceleration in trade growth after the first half of 2018.
All said and done, decent wages should be given to the garment workers and their workplace safety must be ensured. Also, compliance issues should be addressed to remain competitive in the global apparel market.
Also, the government, factory owners and the workers need to work together to introduce a pension scheme in the apparel industry. There is also the need to brand Bangladesh as a source of green textiles.
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