Agitation over the minimum wages of the garment workers continues as the owners proposed Tk 6,300 as the minimum wage during the Minimum Wage Board's stakeholder meeting recently. The capital city and its suburbs are witnessing demonstrations and rallies demanding fixing Tk 16,000 as the minimum wage for the workers.
Leaders of the garment workers' unions say it is difficult to survive with such a low wage and so they are demanding a living wage for the workers. They are now threatening to mount a tougher movement if their demand for fixing Tk 16,000 as minimum wage is not met soon.
Leaders of the Garment Workers Coordination Parishad, a platform of 52 organisations for RMG workers, say their demand for fixing minimum wage at Tk 16,000, including a basic salary of Tk 10,000, is now a national demand. They point out that the salary of garment workers in Bangladesh is the lowest in Asia. RMG workers here are getting only US$ 67 (Tk 5,300) while those in India US$ 168, in Cambodia US$170, in Pakistan US$ 124, in Vietnam US$ 154 and in Myanmar US$86.
A survey conducted in Dhaka, Chattagram, Gazipur, Ashulia and Narayanganj in 2016 found that a four-member family of a garment worker needs at least Tk 19,217 per month to survive. The prices of daily essentials as well as the house rent continue to go up. As such, it has become difficult for a garment worker to survive with such low wage.
The apparel leaders want at least Tk. 16,000 as minimum wage with Tk. 10,000 as basic salary and fulfilment of the demand by August. They also demand 10 per cent annual increment, three-month apprenticeship period with basic salary and six-month maternity leave.
In the present pay structure of Tk 5,300, it's hardly possible for garment workers to bear their family expenses and survive with essential prices and house rents continue to grow up.
The minimum wage is expected to be announced by December next. The minimum wage fixed at Tk 940 in 1994, Tk 1,662.50 in 2006, Tk 3,000 in 2010, and Tk 5,300 in 2013.
Earlier, the garment owners association came under intense international pressure to hike the workers wages. International rights groups alleged that workers' rights situation was getting worse in the country's RMG sector and they repeatedly urged the European Union (EU) to review Bangladesh's eligibility for Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).
There are reasons to believe that an agreement on the minimum wage for garment sector would be reached between the owners and the workers at some point. Both owners and workers have to take a realistic approach and take into cognizance all the factors. Such factors should include cost of living, global market conditions, competition, state of export revenue, cost of remediation of factories etc.
A new wage structure acceptable to both the parties should be developed through meaningful negotiations. Garments workers' leaders have already complained that there was an apparent slackness in the activities of wage board. Such slackness should not be allowed to sustain.
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