The holy festival of Eid-ul-Azha is fast approaching. However, more than five and a half hundred export-oriented garment and textile factories have still not paid the June wages of their workers.
If the number of subcontracting factories is taken into account, the number will reach close to a thousand. Besides, more than two thousand garment and textile factory workers have not got their Eid bonus yet.
This has already sparked protest among the workers. The workers of Stylecraft Limited of Laxmipura area in Gazipur took position on the Gazipur-Dhaka highway with bamboo barricades last Thursday demanding arrears and other pending allowances. They have not been paid for the last eight months. Before last Eid too, the workers had to take to the streets for their arrears and bonuses.
The labour leaders say the compliance garments factories or factories with improved working environment, pay the salaries and bonuses on time. The problem lies within the small, medium and subcontracting factories.
Two or three years ago, the factory authorities had to pay the salaries and allowances a few days before Eid within a fixed deadline. But now the deadline has to be set just one or two days before Eid due to pressure from the owners. If a factory fails to pay the salaries and bonuses, the garment workers suffer.
According to the industrial police, there are around 3,100 garment and textile factories in Ashulia, Gazipur, Chattogram, Narayanganj, Mymensingh and Khulna. These factories are members of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), two associations of garment owners, and BTMA, an association of the owners of the textile industry.
As of Thursday, some 348 factories under BGMEA, 152 factories of BKMEA and 81 factories of Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) had not paid the salaries and allowances in June.
On the other hand, 1,382 factories under BGMEA, 495 factories under BKMEA and 242 factories of BTMA have not paid the Eid bonuses. Besides, 28 factories of Export Processing Zones (EPZ) under BEPZA have not paid the wages and allowances. And 241 factories of EPZ have not paid the bonuses as yet.
Apart from garments, the industrial police also monitor other industries as well. According to their data, there are a total of 7,824 garment and textile factories in Ashulia, Gazipur, Chattogram, Narayanganj, Mymensingh and Khulna.
Of these, some 1,539 factories did not pay the salaries for the month of June as of Thursday. And some 5,824 factories are yet to pay the bonuses. In other words, although 80 per cent of the factories have cleared the pending wages, only 25 per cent have paid the Eid bonus. On Thursday alone, some 527 factories cleared the salaries and some 717 factories paid the bonuses.
When asked, labour leader Sirajul Islam told Prothom Alo that even though the large factories give a bonus equal to the basic salary, the small and medium factories do not even bother to care about the rules. Therefore, there is a concern that some of the factories would have trouble paying salary-bonus at the last moment.
However, BGMEA vice-president Shahidullah Azim said, “Some six to seven member factories of our organisation may face problems in paying the salaries and bonuses. We are monitoring them. Besides, 90 per cent of the factories under our organisation have cleared the salaries. But most of the factories are yet to pay the bonuses. All the factories will clear the pending salaries and bonuses within Sunday or Monday.”
BKMEA vice-president Mohammed Hatem said, “Some four or five of our member factories may have problems with the salaries and bonuses. We are trying to make sure that there is no such problem in the end.”
The Tripartite Consultative Council (TCC) for the readymade garment (RMG) sector held a meeting last Tuesday. After that meeting among the representatives of the government, workers, and the owners, state minister for the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Monnujan Sufian urged the owners to pay the salaries of the workers for the month of June and the pending Eid bonuses within 19 July.
Regarding this, labour leader Babul Akhter said according to the labour law, there is a provision to pay one month's salary within seven or 10 working days of the next month. The state minister for the labour ministry also had set 19 July as the deadline to clear all the salaries and bonuses. Some factory owners might take this chance to avoid paying the salary-allowance. If a factory does not pay the salaries and bonuses of its workers, then where would they go? They would have no other options than taking to the streets. Therefore, the deadline for clearing the salaries and allowances before Eid should be four to five days earlier.
*This interview report in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu