In recent time it is argued that the crisis in the Ready Made Garment (RMG) sector is not only limited to the wages and allowances of the workers. Productions and exports of the factories have decreased and the price of the apparels is decreasing in the international market. The owners of this industry allege that, the supply of gas and electricity is not continuous, because of which they are to use generators to keep the production process of the factories uninterrupted, resulting in the increasing cost of productions.
But it is urgent to reduce the cost of production to comply with the foreign buyers’ demand and the competitive international price. Moreover, serious and untoward incidents in the form of chaos and confusions are frequent in this sector on the basis of rumours and petty demands of the workers. It has become a way of frequently destroying factories by spreading news of misbehaviour of the factory owners with the workers. Even if such allegations are true, it cannot also be denied that there occur frequent abnormal deaths of workers in the garments factories.
Major shocking incidents like the collapse of Rana Plaza in Savar on April 24 2013 killing 1130 workers and crippling about another 1500 of 2438 rescued alive and with about 316 missing. Fire incidents in Tazreen Fashions in Ashulia on November 24 2012 killed at least 112 workers. It is also alleged that kidney diseases are widespread among the garments workers as they are discouraged to drink water during duty hours, since this may cause them to repeatedly go to the urinal causing a loss to work time.
In fact the garments workers sweat their blood in producing garments in the factories and it is alleged that for months after months the owners do not come to the factories; the factories are usually run by the salaried officials who habitually misbehave with the hard working labourers of the factories. It is immoral to consume the fruits of the workers by sitting idle without their consent; although it is usual in capitalism that “its highest executives spend their time sitting on public committees, and have to have deputies to do their work” (Lewis, W.
Arthur, 1954, Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour). In the face of movements of the apparels workers for raising wages and other demands in 2006, the Export Development Bureau and Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) sources said that apparels prices in the international market are gradually falling. Available statistics show that apparels prices increased gradually from the year 1994-95 to 2000-01 with a slight fall in the year 1995-96 compared to the immediate past year after which price jumped.
Then from the year 2001-02 prices fell continuously without break up to the last available year 2009-10 (July to November). This caused the apparels owners unwilling to accept Taka 5,000 from Tk. 1662 as minimum wage suggested in the New Wage Structure 2010 for the garments workers, because this will, in their view, adversely affect the garments sector. The owners proposed Taka 2,513 as minimum wage for the second time in 2010. Afterwards government interventions made the BGMEA accept the New Wage Structure July 29 2010 with Taka 3,000 as minimum wage.
If it is just, there is no question; but if unjust, in that case Al Qur’an reads: “Woe unto the defrauders, those who when they take the measure from mankind demand it full, but if they measure unto them or weigh for them, they cause them loss” (Qur’an, 83:1-3). Recently, after the collapse of the Rana Plaza, the government has decided to form a Wage Board to look after the minimum wages of the apparels workers with possible annual increases in that.
The Garments Owners claim that, a certain quarter has started hatching conspiracies to destroy the RMG sector of the country. The external miscreants by intruding the RMG establishments in the guise of workers have started misdeeds. They are being instigated and used by certain interested quarters from outside. The concerned parties have identified six causes behind their attempts to destroy the RMG sector.
These are: (a) The foreign buyers’ recent inclination to Bangladesh, (b) The instigation of some external powers, (c) The assistance of local influential quarters and the so called labour leaders, (d) The intrusion of the jutting outs miscreants in to the garments factories, (e) The differences of opinions of the political miscreants centering the occupation of the ‘Jhut’ sector, and (f) The internal feud among the labour leaders.
The ‘actual’ workers have no affiliations with these factors and the garments establishments are getting jobs these days. May be there are conspiracies to harm the RMG sector of Bangladesh. But when the disturbances in this sector erupt tens of thousands of workers come down on the streets which are pictured in the national and international electronic and print media. It is illogical to conclude that all of them are miscreants. There may be some who fan the fire of discontents in the minds of the deprived workers.
If the workers are satisfied with and had there been no serious discontents in their minds about what is going on in this sector, it would have been almost impossible to drag down on the streets tens of thousands of innocent content workers by a single or a series of “mobile calls of the miscreants from out side”; and at the same time the disguised miscreants inside the factories could do little harm to this sector. Our habit is to expect too much from law and law enforcing agencies. We forget that they have some natural limits to their capacities.
They can at best suppress the problems for the time being but not permanently cure the actual problems prevailing in the factories. It is the owners of the factories who can play the pivotal role in bringing about peace in the factories by allowing the workers their due share to their produce in the form of satisfactory wages and allowances by cutting down the excess greed for profiteering and the workers’ active participations in decisions making. It is not permissible by good sense to earn excessive profits by coercing the workers by the owners or by the purchasers of apparels by foreign rich buyers.
Good sense prefers to advise the business community to ascertain a mid-course between the highest and the lowest margin of profits for success of this industry like any other industry. The garments owners will have to understand that the minimum wage of a garments worker is Taka 3,000. Actually new wage rate is basically Taka 2,000, of the remaining Taka 1,000, Taka 800 is house rent allowance and Taka 200 is medical allowance, which like other allowances are not usually included in the basic wage/pay in any other services. The minimum basic pay excluding other allowances for a government employee is Taka 6,545). It is difficult for the workers to survive with this meagre amount of money under the prevailing high prices of daily necessities. As a result suppressed despair and discontent is naturally there in the minds of the workers which burst out from time to time, as we see, in the factories causing unrest and disturbances. To control this is beyond the capacity of the law enforcing agencies and the government cannot and should not always shoulder such selfish interests and responsibilities of the private factory owners at ublic costs even though the factory owners pay taxes. They are to solve their own problems by consoling the workers by allowing them satisfactory wages, security and congenial working environments. Governments can at best assist them in these regards. It is also alleged that, some interested international quarters are hatching conspiracies to divert the attention of the buyers from the Bangladesh apparels industry.
These interested quarters want widespread unrest should spread and prevail in this industry so that the buyers rush to them for buying apparels and become beneficiaries. Under different pretext the rival competing countries are deeply feeding fuel behind different movements of the garments workers to engage in destructive activities such as breaking of and torching spree to garments factories. It is also alleged that the factories which are being broken now, their wages and allowances are satisfactory, id est. he compliance factories are being mainly targeted for attack. Garments owners and exporters also allege that, in the name of just wages for the workers some private organizations are instigating the workers to create trouble in the factories. The officials of these Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) spread discontent among the workers under different pleas and they send the news of such unrest to even different international media. Such news makes the foreign buyers worried in this peak period (Mach-August) and the buyers may turn their face from Bangladesh.
If under such circumstances workers unrest spread wide, the garments sector will not survive. So in the prevailing circumstances, owners and exporters of apparels have been thrown into panic. The BGMEA leaders claim that, the wage payments of the workers in factories have not been stopped even in the period of international recession. They say: presently it is the occupiers of ‘Jhut’ trading, along with other problems, which create unrest in the garments industries not the ‘actual’ workers.
Leader of the Combined Garment Workers Federation (CGWF) maintains that, the problems can be solved through mutual understanding and not by shutting down the factories. The CGWF leader indicates that there are some pending problems of the ‘actual’ workers also in the garments factories. These problems are to be solved by the factory owners either individually at the factory level or collectively at the sector level as a whole, so that the national and international self seekers cannot utilize the innocent workers to serve their heinous designs.
On the other hand, some of the privileged labour leaders of the garments industries frequently or occasionally visit various foreign countries under the patronage of some interested national and international quarters. They have amassed huge amount of money and property and ride costly cars. They are also accused of blackmailing both the factory owners and the workers of this sector and causing disturbances that erupt from time to time in this successful sector of the Bangladesh economy.
However, we want an end to the recently become shaky condition of the Bangladesh RMG sector and it to stand erect with factory owners’ own consciousness and sense of responsibility and active surveillance and assistance of the government to this vital sector directly employing 4. 0 million workers, 20 million people indirectly depending on it and earning about US$19 billion foreign exchange per annum amounting to about 78% of total foreign exchange earnings of the economy, so that it does not has to accept the fate of the once prosperous jute industry of the country.