A recent survey of disputes in the overall industrial sector during 2017 was unveiled on May Day by Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS). The readymade garments (RMG) sector being the largest industrial sector employing 4.4 million people directly and 10 million indirectly recorded the largest number of disputes (91 out of a total 181). We find that nearly half the disputes (40 percent) have to do with unpaid wages and 25 percent is connected to rights and demands. Although the BGMEA has effective dispute resolution measures in place, they are in no way binding under law.
The problems arise primarily due to a lack of industrial relations between the owners and workers. Although trade unionisation is allowed in RMG sector, only an insignificant percentage of factories have trade unions. And those that exist do not function properly due to the fact that the leadership has not emerged from the grassroots RMG workers.
The government for its part can make the labour directorate more effective and implement labour law. Had the labour directorate been fully functional, it could serve as a platform for both owners and workers to resolve their problems peacefully, because as things stand now, any labour dispute inevitably spills on to the industrial estate resulting in property damage and closure of major highways that dents general economic activity in the country. We would like to see owners acting on their own and not under any external pressure to reduce some of the major anomalies that exist when it comes to settlement of wages on time.