Bangladesh garment workers deprived of fair wages

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The apparel industry of Bangladesh has expanded over the last 23 years and turned into the country’s biggest export sector; however, the prospect for workers have contrastingly worsened.

Since 1992, the number of apparel factories in Bangladesh increased by 300 per cent and it engaged over 500 per cent more workers, but, value-wise, the wages in the industry have rather decreased over time.

According to statistics, the total number of garment factories in Bangladesh during 1992 was 1,537. By 2016, the number of factories rose to 4,328, marking an increase of near three folds.

Also, in 1992, the number of workers engaged with the emerging industry was 800,000. 24 years later, the industry stands with a staggering 4 million workforce. The lowest wage, as endorsed by the apparel manufacturers and the Government of Bangladesh, for the workers today stands at BDT 5,300. Back then, the lowest wage stood at BDT 1,662.

Considering the inflation rate of 6 per cent over the last 23 years up to 2016, using basic inflation calculator, the BDT 1,662 converts to a current value of BDT 6,348 in 2016.

It is to be noted that the prevailing lowest wage, BDT 1,048 – which is lower than the equivalent value of 1992 wage – excludes several other non-monitored aspects which were subjected to rising prices. For example, the average house rent in Dhaka city alone rose by 388 per cent – almost four folds – over the last 25 years, Bangla daily Prothom Alo reported the same in its newspaper dated December 31, 2016.

The outlook was properly reflected by Centre for Policy Dialogue, a civic think tank in Dhaka, which took all the aspects into consideration and said, in 2013, the lowest wage should be BDT 8,200.

Also to note that the 800,000 workers of 1992 produced an output worth US $ 1,445 million. By 2016, the 4 million workforces of Bangladesh’s industry produced apparels worth US $ 25,941 million.

Considering an average Dollar inflation of over 2.26 per cent per year over the last 23 years, it can be seen that today each worker produces at least twice the number of apparels compared to back in 1993.

“Bangladesh offers the cheapest labour in the world,” Faiezul Hakim, President of Trade Union Federation, told Apparel Resources, reflecting on the “poor condition” of Bangladesh’s apparel workers.

“Our apparel manufacturers do not bargain for higher prices to appease the poor wages of the workers.

They offer lowest wages as a competitive advantage,” he said, clubbing his point that: “all this has been possible because of restrictions on trade unions in the factories.”

Nazma Akter, President of Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, a workers’ platform, thinks that in today’s age, a minimum wage of BDT 16,000 will only be fitting for an offering.

“The prices of electricity have increased eight times in the last nine years, prices of basic commodities increased in the local market, so the wage should also be hiked to this level,” she added.

Just recently, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the apex platform of Bangladesh’s apparel makers, applied to the Government for a new wage structure for the workers.

Faruque Hassan, Senior Vice President of the BGMEA, informed Apparel Resources that the BGMEA has proactively forwarded a letter to the authorities for hiking the wages of the workers.

BGMEA President Siddiqur Rahman has told the local media that the measure has been taken to avert any kind of unrest among the workers demanding a hike in wages. Pro-worker forces and platforms have been demonstrating over the past years, following major workplace disasters like Rana Plaza collapse and Tazreen Fashions fire, demanding a hike in the wages.

[All statistics and data compiled in this report has been taken from Bangladesh Bank, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, and local newspapers]