Pay more, ensure workplace safety
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday urged garment factory owners to pay workers more and ensure workplace safety, as the apparel makers are making fortunes from the sector.
"I hope that the garment owners will pay the workers as best as they can and obey the labour law, and ensure compliance with the buyers to expand the export market," she said.
Hasina was speaking at the opening ceremony of the three-day Bangladesh Apparel and Textile Exposition (Batexpo-2012) at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the capital.
Garment workers are poorly paid, earning as low as $37 a month, though they helped bring home $19 billion in apparel exports last year, about 80 percent of Bangladesh's total earning from overseas markets.
The prime minister said the garment sector is contributing a lot to the economy and also creating jobs. â€œYou [factory owners] are also making good money,â€ she said.
About 40 lakh workers, 80 percent of them women, are employed in 5,000 garment factories in the country, said Hasina.
She said the government provides factory owners with duty and tax benefits. Industrial police has also been constituted for protecting the sector.
Hasina urged the owners to grab the opportunity available on the global apparel market, as the pull-out of investors from China, the world's largest apparel exporter, opens up window of opportunity for Bangladesh, the second largest exporter of garment products.
"The prospect of our readymade garments is being discussed globally. We should not miss the opportunity," she said.
The prime minister also talked about sabotage -- a matter she recently raised after the blaze that killed at least 112 people, mostly workers, at Tazreen Fashions last month.
Hasina said she believes a worker cannot set alight or damage the factory where he is employed, as it provides him a living.
She called upon the owners to stay alert about the â€œbehind-the-scenes gamesâ€ against Bangladesh as it is performing well in the RMG sector.
Hasina said her government has empowered Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the organiser of the event, to issue the â€œCountry of Originâ€ certificate. The government is ready to give the association more responsibilities provided that it enhances its capacity.
She highlighted the contribution of female garment workers, saying their participation has helped cut poverty, increase literacy rate and improve child and maternal health significantly in rural areas. It has ultimately empowered poor women.
LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Syed Ashraful Islam sharply criticised US Ambassador Dan W Mozena for pushing Bangladesh to allow trade unions in RMG factories.
â€œOne ambassador of a powerful country often advocates for allowing trade unions in factories. He doesn't even look at his own country,â€ he said in an oblique reference to Mozena.
Without mentioning the ambassador's name, Syed Ashraf, also general secretary of the ruling Awami League, said the US envoy should first look at his own country before frequently advising Bangladesh on trade unionism.
The minister said 26 of the 52 US states do not allow workers to set up unions. He asked the ambassador to establish trade unions in his country first.
He, however, acknowledged that it's a constitutional right of the workers to form trade unions.
Mozena on several occasions said the non-endorsement of trade unions in garment factories sends a negative signal to US buyers, and it might impact the garment imports from Bangladesh.
(With details from UNB and BSS)