Issues relating to workers' rights and social safety in the garment sector are still receiving less attention than the promotion of business activities, according to a study conducted by the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).
After the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, stakeholders took a total of 102 initiatives in a bid to streamline the industry, but only 39 per cent of them or 40 suggestions have so far been implemented, 49 per cent are under implementation while 11 per cent remained slow or stagnant, it said.
The study identified lengthy judicial process, setting up fire stations for the apparel hubs, appointment of the required number of labour inspectors, and making online services user-friendly as challenging aspects of establishing good governance in the apparel sector.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the TIB made a twelve-point recommendation, including formation of a speedy tribunal and a single authority to look into sector-related issues.
The TIB also claimed that there was no real hike in the new basic wage structure for garment workers. Rather, the basic pay has witnessed an average decline of 26 per cent in 2018, compared to 2013, as 5.0 per cent annual increment was not considered while preparing the new wage structure.
The basic pay of a worker in grade seven was Tk 3,000 in 2013 while it has been fixed at Tk 4,100 in the revised structure in January 2019. Actually, the basic pay would have been Tk 5,207 if the 5.0 per cent annual increment had been taken into account since 2013, the report showed.
The TIB organised the press conference to release its study report on 'Good Governance in the RMG Sector: Progress and Challenge' at its office in the city.
Terming the government's various policy supports 'logical and positive', TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said, "Priority has been given to issues related to owners' profits, promotion of trade and export growth. But in many cases, workers' rights and their related issues are not getting sufficient attention and they are not addressed accordingly."
Corporate tax has been reduced to 12 per cent from 15 per cent for the garment factories while the rate is 10 per cent for green factories though the tax rate ranged between 15 per cent and 45 per cent for other sectors, he said.
Source at tax has been fixed at 0.25 per cent in 2019 while 96 per cent of the bonded warehouse facility has been given to the sector in 2018, apart from other facilities such as cash incentives and VAT exemption, he said.
But issues related to workers' rights have not received the desired government's attention and even the garment factory owners are reluctant to look into the rights issues, Dr Iftekharuzzaman said.
Some 5,000 workers lost jobs in the aftermath of the recent labour unrest while 35 cases have been filed against the workers, he said.
Amendments to labour law has been made twice-in 2013 and 2018 -- with the latest reducing the 30 per cent workers' representations to 20 per cent for trade union registration and increasing the compensation amount to TK 0.2 million and Tk 0.25 million for the deceased and permanently disabled workers, who are victims of workplace accidents, respectively, he said.
Punitive measures against workers have been incorporated into the labour law, he said, adding that on the other hand, punishments for factory owners have been lessened.
Presently, workers are entitled to enjoy maternity leave for only 16 weeks, but the leave period was 24 weeks in 2011, he noted, adding that only 3.0 per cent of factories have trade unions but mostly dominated by the factory owners' men.
The report recommended further amendments to EPZ act and labour law to remove inconsistencies related to workers' termination, maternity benefit, right to unionise and collective bargaining.
Workers' lawful rights related to wages, overtime and leave benefits must be protected by coordinated efforts and there should be enhanced government's monitoring, it suggested.
Buyers should disclose their Bangladeshi suppliers' list on their official website and they should stop unethical practices including closing factories, not compensating workers in case of termination and not offering fair prices for apparel items, the report recommended.
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