Despite the massive overhaul that the ready-made garments (RMG) industry in Bangladesh has undergone since the Rana Plaza collapse six years ago, there remain important concerns about the adequacy of efforts with regard to the workers. One of them, as reported by this newspaper based on findings by the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), is that workers are getting 26 percent less in basic pay than what they should have under the new salary structure, which came into effect in December last year. It happened because, while fixing their pay, the minimum wage board that recommended the salary structure did not consider the five percent annual automatic increment owed to the workers in the previous five years. This is really unfortunate, to say the least. It bespeaks the underlying pro-owner bias of those who usually sit on the wage board.
The TIB also found that the factory owners have raised their production target by 30-36 percent considering the new wage hike. Workers are under pressure to fulfil the time-bound target. But even though the salary that is now being offered is an improvement on the previous wage structure, it doesn’t justify the abuse, additional work, on-the-job stress and uncompensated overtime that the workers are being reportedly subjected to. These issues need to be addressed keeping the workers’ rights and interests in mind. It’s worth recalling that the Rana Plaza tragedy had brought about a costly overhaul of building and fire safety standards for which the owners had to pay. But nearly four lakh workers also lost their jobs as a result, with only 6,676 of them having received compensation. In these changing times, the onus is on the factory owners and the government to come up with innovative business plans that will pay for the increased cost of production and the welfare of the workers. The workers cannot suffer for their failure to do so.