Both the apparel apex trade-bodies - BGMEA and BKMEA - are yet to complete preparing a biometric database of the workers under their respective member factories, keeping the actual number of readymade garment (RMG) sector workers in the dark as ever.
Till date, some 2.95 million workers of some 2,136 member factories of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) have been enlisted.
On the other hand, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) has been able to enlist the workers of only 147 of its member factories so far, out of active 900 units, in its database.
It is estimated that some 4.4 million workers, majority of whom are women, are employed in the RMG sector, although there is no specific data on the number of male and female workers or their ratio.
The ratio of female and male workers in the country's apparel sector was found 65:35 in a study conducted by Asian Center for Development (ACD) in 2015. Many believe that nearly 80 per cent of the workers in the sector are female.
Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in one of its preliminary survey findings revealed on Saturday that the female and male workers ratio has changed to 60.8:39.2, showing an increase in male participation following adaptation of more modern technologies in the sector.
The importance of a central database for the workers was seriously felt after the Tazreen fire and the Rana Plaza collapse, as it took a long time in proper identification of victims due to absence of such a database. It also delayed the process of compensation for the affected workers and their dependants.
Immediately after the two incidents, BGMEA in mid-2013 initially instructed its member-factories at Ashulia to prepare a biometric database of their workers by August 30, 2013.
BGMEA then signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with two IT firms - Systech and Tiger - for preparing a biometric database of the garment workers.
The association also renewed its agreement with the IT firms in 2015. In the renewed agreement, the cost for preparing biometric database has been reduced.
A factory owner has to pay Tk 45,000 to Tk 0.15 million based on his factory's manpower. The amount was around Tk 0.175 million to Tk 0.35 million in the previous deal.
But till 2014, only 300 factories registered themselves with BGMEA for getting the service, covering a total of 1,50,000 workers, according to the trade body.
Later, the association renewed its call and instructed all the members to be enlisted for preparing the database by December 2015.
BGMEA vice president Mohammed Nasir said, "We are satisfied with the enrolment of factories in the central database, as till date 2.95 million workers have been enlisted."
Some 4,300 factories are listed with the association, of which 3,500 are in operation, while 2,200-2,500 factories have taken utilisation declaration from the association, according to BGMEA.
He hoped that enrolment of the rest would be done shortly.
Industry insiders, however, attributed mounting pressure, both local and international, to introduce a number of safety measures to ensure workplace safety in the RMG factories, especially after the Tazreen fire and Rana Plaza building collapse, and lack of finance for this database preparation failure.
Besides, many small factories do not have any IT cell and skilled manpower, and it is difficult to convince them, as they are not familiar with the system.
The sector leaders, however, said it is a difficult task to incorporate all the workers in a database, and so the process is taking a long time.