Production at more than 60 garment factories remained suspended for the fourth consecutive day yesterday as owners kept those shuttered fearing unrest amid protests of workers, who apprehend discrimination in the new wage structure.
Workers of 42 factories mainly located in Savar and Ashulia did not return to their workplaces yesterday as they were demonstrating against the assumed discrimination, said Sana Saminur Rahman, superintendent of industrial police in Ashulia area.
Another 20 factories in Gazipur have kept their operations suspended, according to Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
Seven factories were vandalised by a group of workers during the demonstration, Saminur said. The workers have been abstaining from work and staging protests because of a rumour of discrimination in the wage hike, he said.
Workers say the salary of the seventh grade increased to Tk 8,000 from Tk 5,300 a month. But, the salary of the workers in other grades did not go up at the same rate.
The salary hike for entry level workers was more than their senior operators, who have been working for more than seven to eight years. The new wage became effective on December 1.
Hasanul Alam, an operator at a factory in Ashulia, said he had been working at the factory for the last few years. The management of the factory told him that his salary might be increased to Tk 9,500 a month from Tk 9,000 now.
This means, Alam's salary would go up by Tk 500 only, whereas an entry level worker's salary will go up by Tk 2,700 at one go.
His frustration was echoed by many workers in the industrial belt.
“The salary of garment workers will not increase at the same rate in all grades. This is a standard formula in case of salary hike,” said Shamsun Nahar Bhuiyan, workers' representative at a minimum wage board that recommended the new wage structure.
She said usually the salary of entry-level workers increase more than that of workers in other grades.
The wage of the workers in 38 other sectors has been hiked following the same formula, Nahar told The Daily Star over the phone.
The house rent rose to 50 percent from 40 percent for all grades. Similarly, medical, transport and food allowances were hiked for all workers in all grades.
“So, there is no confusion that the salary has not increased for the workers of other grades,” Nahar said.
BGMEA's Siddiqur said, “We have been holding meetings with labour leaders, government officials and factory owners to resolve the crisis as soon as possible.”
A core crisis management meeting will be held at the ministry of labour and employment tomorrow to reach a solution. “If we can't reach a solution at the meeting, we will shut down our factories for an indefinite period to avert any unrest,” he said.
On Wednesday, the BGMEA and the affected factory owners organised an emergency press conference in Dhaka to brief the media about the situation.
“Workers' demonstration at this moment is not logical as the adjustment of the new wage structure has not been made yet. They are demonstrating based on rumours only,” Siddiqur had said at the briefing.
The BGMEA chief said he suspected a section of vested quarters was trying to instigate the workers ahead of the national elections.