A woman stares in gloomy eyes in front of a stall of vegetables
Sajid Hossain

The current rising trend of commodity prices has hit the workers hard as the minimum wage fixed by the government for them turned inadequate for meeting basic expenses in the present context.

The inflation is much higher than their income growth, which eventually has lowered their purchasing power.

Some 42 sectors have minimum wages fixed by the government. Of them, 18 sectors have crossed the five-year deadline, but fresh salary structures are yet to be implemented for them. Some 10 sectors even passed a decade since the enactment of the last wage structure.

The readymade garments sector employs the highest score of workers – four million -- in the country. The government had set a minimum wage for a RMG worker at Tk 8,000 in 2018. It is the starting salary of a worker, which would increase at a rate of 5 per cent annually.

The workers feel the heat of inflation while purchasing essentials, like rice, pulse, oil, salt and vegetables. Life gets tougher for them particularly when the price of rice surges in the local market.

Each kilogram of rice, which would sell at Tk 38 in 2018, is now selling at Tk 60, registering a 58 per cent hike in price.

The last wage structures for these sectors were fixed before 2016 and some of them passed over a decade. The minimum wage of these sectors is around Tk 7,420

Salauddin Swapan, former secretary general of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC), told Prothom Alo that the working class people have been struggling to survive due to the hike in essentials’ prices. Their purchasing power reduced by 20 per cent in the last two years.

He demanded that the workers be provided with allowance or rations to help them survive.

Wage expires in 18 sectors

The minimum wage structure of various sectors generally expires in five years. According to the latest report of the Minimum Wages Board, the wage structures of 18 sectors have expired the five-year deadline.

The sectors are type foundries; petrol pump; Ayurvedic Factory; Iron foundry and engineering workshop; tea garden; oil factories and vegetable production; homeopathy factory; salt crushing; cold storage; unskilled adult workers and juvenile workers engaged in privately owned industries; private jute mills; rubber industry; cinema hall; match industry; jute press and baling; fishermen (who work on fishing trawlers); bidi; and land ports.

The last wage structures for these sectors were fixed before 2016 and some of them passed over a decade. The minimum wage of these sectors is around Tk 7,420.

However, a large group of workers in the country still remain outside the government wage structure. They are mainly informal sector workers and unavoidably they are also suffering now.

Inflation rises faster than wages

The pressure on limited-income people intensifies when their wages do not increase in line with the prices of goods and their real purchasing power decreases.

Analysing the inflation and national wage index of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), it was found that the wage growth generally remains higher than inflation. But there have been exceptions over the last several months.

The inflation jumped to 7.48 per cent in July when the wage growth was 6.56 per cent. The construction workers witnessed the least income growth of 5.9 per cent among others. It implies that wages are not rising at the rate the prices are spiraling.