6 years ago

Poor wages force RMG workers to rely on overtime

Says US rights organisation

FE file photo
FE file photo

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Bangladesh's garment workers earn inadequate wages and mostly rely on excessive hours of overtime for an insignificant amount of money, according to a recent report.

The report titled 'Toward Fair Compen-sation in Bangladesh: Insights on Closing the Wage Gap,' by US-based rights organisation -- Fair Labour Association -- was launched on the fifth anniversary of Rana Plaza building collapse last week.

It said both the government and the industry often fail to protect the interests of workers and called for shared responsibility of all stakeholders including brands and suppliers to address the wage gap.

The report found that not a single garment worker, among more than 6,000 workers studied, was earning income even close to a living wage.

It said workers' average wages should be almost 50 per cent higher than the legal minimum wage (Tk 5,300) which is just above the World Bank Poverty Line (Tk 6,784).

The FLA conducted the survey in 18 RMG factories and found all factories represented in its sample fell short of the union and living wage benchmarks.

Average wages of RMG workers are set just above the World Bank Poverty Line but still is significantly below all the living wage benchmarks, with workers on average earning Tk2,507 (around $30) per month more than the legal minimum wage.

"To supplement their income, all workers in this study were depending on overtime, which accounts for more than 20 per cent of the average worker's wages," the study found and added that half of all workers studied were regularly working more than 60 hours a week, despite the negative effects on worker health and wellbeing of such prolonged hours.

Workers in factories with overtime-dependent production were also often found to be working more than six days consecutively without a break (in one instance, as long as 19 days), the report read.

"The highest wages are correlated strongly with factories where assessors found fewer violations related to poor production planning or inadequate worker representation," it said illustrating the importance of strong freedom of association provisions, both at the factory and national levels.

The report called upon employers for a regular workweek of not more than 48 hours and overtime hours of not more than 60 other than in exceptional circumstances.

Participation committees cannot be considered a sustainable alternative to functioning unions, and supports strengthening workers' right to freedom of association, it noted.

In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy, which sparked worker protests across the country, the Bangladeshi government moved quickly to increase the minimum wage by 71 per cent and since that time the minimum wage remained static.

Flat pay combined with rising inflation exacerbated an already daunting wage gap for workers as wages of most of the workers remained closely tied to the current legal minimum wage, the FLA data showed.

"Buyers and suppliers must engage in honest dialogue on prices and costing in pursuit of a shared goal of fair compensation for workers," it said adding buyers and suppliers have a shared responsibility to remediate conditions that result in low wages.

"Lasting improvement depends on all stakeholders - the government, workers and unions, civil society, and brands and suppliers - stepping up now to play their part in improving wages that are among the world's lowest for garment workers," the report added.

Local rights groups, however, demanded Tk 16,000 as minimum monthly wages while another group demanded Tk 18,000.

The rights groups' demand included Tk 10,000 as basic payment with a 10 per cent annual increment and the introduction of provident fund facility.

Transparency International Bangladesh in one of its research studies recommended $202 monthly minimum wages for the garment workers.

The government recently formed a new wage board to review the wages of the garment workers.

Md Siddiqur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) in the first meeting of the wage board held last month said the industry grouping would try to reach an "acceptable" wage considering workers' demands and the industry's capacity.

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