Another death: Let the deadlock of the RMG sector end

Prothom Alo illustration

Another worker of the readymade garments sector died during their clash with law enforcing agencies while demanding an increase of wage. With this, four workers including a female have died in the space of two weeks.

On last Wednesday the agitated workers had a clash with police at the Jarun area of the Konabari of Gazipur. A worker named Jalal Uddin was injured by a police bullet and later he succumbed to his injuries at a hospital. He was supervisor of a RMG factory.

According to Prothom Alo news, the amount of RMG export has increased 24 times but the labour wage has increased just 13 times. The ongoing movement of the workers in the RMG factories is driven by the deprivation of wages. Government announced the minimum wage as Tk 12,500 but the workers rejected the proposal and started movements. The workers demand, the raise of wages which is done after seven years is not enough for the expense of livelihood under the current market conditions. They demanded a minimum wage of Tk 20,000.

It is worth mentioning that the minimum wage for workers in this industry in China is 303 dollars. The minimum wages in Vietnam, India, Cambodia, Indonesia are 170 dollars, 171 dollars, 200 dollars and 243 dollars respectively. In that case, 113 dollars for workers in Bangladesh is very low.

It is needless to say that the stubborn stance of the factory owners intensified the situation. On 22 October the workers’ representatives proposed the minimum wage of Tk 20,393 at the fourth meeting of the wage board. In reply the owners’’ representatives proposed Tk 10,400.

From the very next day workers’ agitations were seen at Ashulia, Mirpur and some other industrial areas.

The continuation of the agitations even after the announcement of a new wage clearly suggests it was not accepted by the workers. We also questioned in our editorials how much practical and acceptable this newly proposed wage is? One need not be an economist to comprehend that this salary is not realistic given the current rate of inflation. RMG owners have been getting various facilities and concessions for a long time, but their struggle regarding workers' wages is not new. Unfortunately, the government is also always seen as overzealous in protecting the interests of the owners.

The RMG is the largest foreign exchange earning sector in Bangladesh. But an industry cannot be sustainable based solely on low wages for workers. Owners and the government should take this reality into account. Apart from that, continued labour unrest will also undermine the stability of this sector. There is no point in seeing only conspiracies in labor discontent.

Moreover, it is unfortunate that the government has decided to exert power to suppress the movement. Who is accountable for the loss of these four lives? It seems the government is thinking that exerting power is the right way rather than considering the background of workers’ agitations. This sort of stance is not only against the welfare of the workers but also dangerous for the industry.

The deadlock that is sustaining at the RMG sector regarding the wage must be finished immediately. Let the authorities provide compensation to the families of supervisor Jalal Uddin and other three deceased workers. We think a pragmatic wage must be set for the sake of the RMG sector, owners and workers.