May Day: Ensure workers’ minimum wage

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Today is May Day, the day of establishing workers’ rights. Workers in US city of Chicago laid down lives during a movement on 1st May of 1886, while demanding an eight-hour workday against the 10 to 12-hour workday.

Following in the steps of that sacrifice, working people across the countries of the world have been struggling for fair wages, holidays, humane behaviour, hygienic and safe work environment.

Workers’ demand of eight-hour workday has been fulfilled in many of the countries and the work environment has also improved a bit; but safety and human rights in their professional life have not been fully achieved yet.

The theme of May Day this year is ‘Malik-Sramik Gorbo Desh, Egiye Jabe Bangladesh’, a pledge of workers and owners together building the nation for moving Bangladesh forward. Owners’ capital alone isn’t enough for economic development, workers’ labour is necessary as well.

Today when the May Day is being observed, workers’ minimum wages have been fixed only in some sectors including government industries and ready-made garments while a huge chunk of them still remains outside that.  

In Bangladesh, the number of workers employed in the informal sector is indeed greater than that of the formal sector. Those workers don’t even have the guarantee of earning a minimum wage or any job security.

The wages in the readymade garment factories were last announced in 2018, fixing the minimum wage at Tk 8,000.

While the cost of living has gone up in the last five years, wages remain the same. Workers have made a demand for increasing the minimum wage to Tk 22,000.

The minimum wage currently received by the workers in Bangladesh is utterly inadequate to lead a dignified life.

Non-government organisation South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) showed in a research that garment factory workers in this country earn less than what they required to meet basic needs including food, shelter, and medical care.

In three months from April to June of 2022, they have earned Tk 9,984 on average every month. Their ‘living wage’ or the income required for a fairly standard living at that time, was Tk 19,000 to 26,000 depending on the area of residence.

That means the difference between their actual income and the money required for meeting their minimum demand is 51 to 60 per cent.

For the wages not increasing in line with the inflation, the actual minimum wages of the Bangladeshi workers have reduced at the highest rate among the countries of this region.

The latest International Labour Organization (ILO) report states that Bangladesh has the lowest minimum wage among the countries of the Asia-Pacific region.

Not only that, Bangladesh is the only country in the region where the minimum wage is even lower than that of the international poverty line.

The report was published after analysing the changing trend of wage rate from 136 countries of the world.

It’s high time to fix the minimum wages for the workers of all sectors immediately for a dignified living standard, resonating with the commodity price and the cost of living for a balanced economic development of the country.

Countries that have achieved rapid economic development also have a developed standard of living for the workers.

So the government and the owners have to realise a simple fact that it is impossible to achieve the desired economic development by paying the workers low wages or keeping them deprived. Improving workers’ standard of living is essential for viable development in any country.

Congratulations to the working class people of Bangladesh along with the working class people of the world on this occasion of the May Day.