Removing anomalies in new RMG wage structure  

Published: December 26, 2018 22:06:20 | Updated: December 28, 2018 21:57:38

A sense of urgency pervades the relevant government agencies to address labour unrest  over   the  new wage structure for  the garments  sector. The prelude to the national  election  having  witnessed a spate of demonstrations at 50 factories  in Gazipur, Ashulia and Narayanganj since December 09,  one intense phase of agitation  may  have tapered  off, notionally  speaking.  But the   unrest  simmers as  the inherent 'inconsistencies' in the new wage dispensation  are likely to fuel  further trouble in the sector going ahead. And, it couldn't have come at a worse time considering  that this  coincided  with     the peak season  for export of some brand items in high demand in the western world.

 Thus seized with the situation, State Minister for Labour Mujibul Haque in an emergency meeting on December 15 held out an assurance: "The government will address the inconsistencies, if any, in the new wage structure through discussion with all stakeholders after the election."

A hands-on interactive approach has already got underway with the most important element  in the  chemistry for solution, namely, the employers, expected to  be drawn  into the  equation  soon enough. The Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) held a meeting last Sunday with a number of labour leaders. The latter highlighted 'the confusion over the gazette notification on new wage structure, reduction in basic payment, and disproportionate  rise in wage  for different grades.'

Now the labour  leaders' opinions  will be conveyed to the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) by the DIFE with their recommendations for deciding the next course of action  following  the election. So far so good, but without the garment factory owners' calculus  sparing a  pragmatic, production stimulating and incentivising    space to the workers the task of   realising   the full  potential  of the RMG sector  may  be derailed.

  While the  basic pay for RMG workers  constituted 67.69  per cent of the gross minimum wage in 2006, it  is  set  at  51.25  per cent  in the 2018  edition. The grumbling is because of the fact that payment of different allowances - overtime, festival bonus and other service-related benefits - depends on the basic salary. One more point of discord relates to disproportionate increases in basic pay between grades  ranging  from TK.272 in the seventh grade   to TK.196,  TK.164 , TK.79, Tk.42  and TK5.0. in the lower  grades.  According to an amended   notification (dubbed as confusing)  on November 29, four days after the original  gazette notification on the new  wage structure, the workers would not  get any increment now  as the new wage structure has come into effect. Although more than a year has elapsed since they received  their last increment, they are denied it even on the old scale! Such nitty-gritty is important for the workers.     

It is important to  ensure that there is no  confrontation between the  workers  and the managements which may prove unnecessarily attritional for the industry. So, all manner of rigid positioning should be avoided  between  the employees and the employers. Instead  they  ought to  settle  differences, if any,  through  discussion. In fact, an  auto-reflexive  mechanism needs to be put  in place on the floor or office levels   for trouble-shooting and preventing  any  conflict  from arising .

The workers should not lend  their ears to  rumour-mongering, far less to any  rumour itself. For that would be playing into the hands of trouble-makers who may be waiting in the wings to bring the sector to harm. And, a cooperative management is pivotal to  a balanced two-way  relationship. Working in concert is all the more    imperative when the RMG industry leaders  are  aiming  at  $50 billion worth of apparel exports by 2021, the field being laid open by China.

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