Although unrest in the apparel factories over cut-out point of minimum wage has apparently subsided following widespread occurrences of violence, arson and even deaths of workers during the past fortnight, things do not at all seem agreeable enough to pacify the heated atmosphere. No doubt, the minimum wage of Tk 12,500 announced by the government as against the demanded Tk 20,000 (lowered from the initial Tk 23,000) does not seem to inspire hope to address the grievances of workers, given the price spiral of all daily necessities. The workers' union rejected the wage so fixed and continued with their agitation. To quell the escalating unrest, around 130 factories in Ashulia and Gazipur were closed down, with the owners announcing "no work, no pay" policy, as per provision 13 (1) of the labour law. Clearly an existential threat to workers, this action by factory owners has compelled many to join work.
A FE report says many of the shuttered readymade garment factories in Ashulia and Gazipur industrial zones, which had stopped operation for more than two weeks amid increasing labour unrest, have resumed production. According to factory owners and the industrial police, nearly 100 closed apparel-manufacturing units have started operation in the industrial zones late this week. Around 30 more factories that remained closed are expected to resume operations in a day or two. To all appearances, it is a botched-up arrangement that may last only for the time being, and hence the unrest, now seemingly calmed, may erupt in the near future with the accompanied baggage – violence, deaths and damage to property.
What is worrying beside the looming agitation is the possibility of shrinking export prospect in Bangladesh's largest apparel market – the EU. Continuation of EU preferential treatment under the new GSP-plus scheme is essentially tied to compliance with the labour rights, among other issues. The visiting EU delegation, tasked to review progress of labour-sector reforms in the country, has reportedly begun talks with the stakeholders, especially the local union leaders and rights groups about the amended labour Act, progress in trade union registration, unfair labour practices and the Essential Services Bill 2023. The rights groups have informed the delegation about the state of reforms in line with the government's National Action Plan (NAP) that, needless to say, is far short of fulfilling the compliance norms. It has been learnt that the European Commission (EC) has already expressed concern over the limited progress on the National Action Plan (NAP) on ensuring the pledges made by Bangladesh in order to qualify for GSP+ benefits. The EC, while communicating its concern, has reportedly stated that full implementation of the NAP will be the key criteria for assessing Bangladesh's position to qualify for GSP+ benefits from 2024.
In view of the overall situation, it is crucially important to strike a harmonious balance for ensuring labour rights as pledged by the government to qualify for GSP+ and in so doing, reconsider the minimum wage issue which is fundamentally linked to the sustenance of the apparel industry.