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Drastic Covid impact calls for improving women RMG workers’ working and living conditions: Speakers

A woman works in a garment factory, as factories reopened after the government has eased the restrictions amid concerns over coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 3, 2020 – Reuters/Files
A woman works in a garment factory, as factories reopened after the government has eased the restrictions amid concerns over coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 3, 2020 – Reuters/Files

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Both the working conditions and the living environment of female RMG workers of Bangladesh need to be improved as Covid-19 has impacted drastically, said speakers at a press conference on Thursday.

A policy brief based on the study titled “Towards the Development of Post Covid-19 Gender Policy in RMG sector in Bangladesh” was also presented during the event at the National Press Club in Dhaka.

The study was conducted by a research team of University of Aberdeen, UK Professor Azizul Islam, Pamela Abbott, Shamima Haque, Fiona Gooch and from Bangladesh Professor Salma Akhter.

Professor Salma Akhter in the presentation mentioned that female RMG (Readymade garments) workers need orientation on their human rights and labour rights.

She suggested incorporating jobless RMG women workers in the government’s social safety net programmes and skill development for employment generation for their wellbeing.

She also emphasised a wide dissemination of the welfare and service provisions of the Ministry of Labour, BGMEA and other relevant organisations to the destitute RMG female workers for their welfare.

Planning Minister M A Mannan and former Additional Secretary of the Economic Relations Division Mr Jalal Ahmed attended the programme respectively as the chief guest and the special guest.

Mr Mannan said a large number of people who were once out of labour market are now employed in the RMG sector were once out of labour market.

Admitting that a decent work environment for all in the sector is already overdue, he said, “The positive aspect of this sector is that this is allowing many people a basic livelihood.”

“We have limitations but we are trying our best. We sometimes get complaints about a few RMG factory owners of non-compliance with existing laws and we try to resolve these.”

Mr Ahmed said the countries that are now giving Bangladesh instructions on development experienced even a worse situation and came thus far stage by stage.

“We are also improving our situation significantly. We have to understand that productivity of our RMG workers is an issue,” he added insisting on improving skills of our RMG workers for competitiveness in the world market.

What Aberdeen University Team members say

Professor Muhammad Azizul Islam, University of Aberdeen Business School, said, “Our research findings emphasise that both retailers in the UK and their suppliers in Bangladesh have equal responsibility to prevent the exploitation of women and create gender-friendly working conditions in the garment industry.”

“The exploitation of women in the garment sector during Covid-19 era demands credible mechanisms from both the UK and Bangladesh governments, including forming independent and multistakeholder ‘watchdog’ bodies to hold retailers and their suppliers accountable.”

Professor Pamela Abbott, director of Centre for Global Development, University of Aberdeen, said, “Our research has found that some workers are being forced to do unpaid overtime because they are unable to meet unachievable production targets.

“It has also found that workers rely on paid overtime to earn enough to live on. Buyers and retailers in the West need to increase the amount they pay for garments so that workers can be paid a living wage.

 “Our research has found that when the factories closed for the lockdown the contracts of pregnant women were terminated.

“Owners need to respect the law and allow women to have the maternity leave they are entitled to and the Bangladesh Government should ensure that the law is enforced.”

Dr Shamima Haque, from University of Aberdeen Business School, said, ‘’Our findings show that Covid-19 has widened the already existing gender inequality, and that there is limited protection available for women.

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