Minimum wage in RMG sector: Workers reject Tk 12,500, warn of tough demos
The wage board for garment workers has set the minimum salary at Tk 12,500, a little over half of what workers demand.
Union leaders have rejected the new minimum wage put forth by the wage board, which accepted the proposal of factory owners' representative Siddiqur Rahman.
The current starting wage is Tk 8,000.
Union leaders yesterday threatened to go for tough demonstrations. Workers had demonstrated for 12 straight days.
State Minister for Labour and Employment Begum Monnujan Sufian announced the salary hike at a press briefing at her secretariat office.
Before the announcement, members of the Minimum Wage Board, formed on April 9, held a meeting at its office. While the meeting was going on, union leaders outside chanted slogans demanding a minimum wage of at least Tk 23,000.
Demanding a starting salary of Tk 25,000, Montu Ghosh, president of Garment Sramik Trade Union Kendra, said the measly amount set was not enough to lead a good life. Inflation and high prices of essentials have made things worse for garment workers.
Ghosh along with other union leaders of the Mojuri Briddhite Garment Sramik Andolon, a platform of workers' unions, in a statement rejected the new minimum wage and called for a rally on Friday where they would announce tougher programmes.
Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation, said if the value of the dollar is considered, the new minimum wage is a little more than the Tk 8,000 fixed in 2018.
If the workers' unrest continues, the responsibility will lie with the wage board, Nazma said.
Sirajul Islam Rony, workers' representative on the board, on the sidelines of the press briefing of the state minister, said the owners did not budge from their proposal of Tk 12,500. He said he sought Tk 20,393 and even went down to Tk 13,000, but the owners did not agree.
Towhidur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Apparel Workers' Federation, said the prime minister's intervention is needed in setting the new minimum wage.
He demanded ration cards, not the family cards of the TCB, for the garment workers.
State Minister Monnujan said the new salary was fixed under the direction of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Chairman of the board Liaquat Ali Mollah said the representatives of the owners and workers all agreed on Tk 12,500.
Of the new amount, Tk 6,700 is basic salary, Tk 3,350 rent, Tk 750 medical allowance, Tk 450 transport allowance, and Tk 1,250 food allowance.
The new salary will come into effect from December 1 and the workers will receive the new salary in January.
RMG workers' organisations have been demanding between Tk 23,000 and Tk 25,000 minimum wage.
The new minimum wage is much less than those offered in India, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Indonesia. Only Pakistan has a lower minimum wage.
Early last month, the Centre for Policy Dialogue, after a survey, interviews and research, estimated that the minimum wage for an RMG worker should be Tk 17,568. The new minimum wage falls short of that.
The think-tank had delved into food and non-food expenditure patterns of 228 workers from 76 factories and even considered how many earning members an average RMG worker's family had.
The CPD had stated that the food cost for an RMG worker family was at least Tk 9,198 a month but notes that the standard food expenditure for a family of four would be Tk 16,529 and that the garment workers have to cut corners to make ends meet.
It said 12 percent of the workers' families do not buy milk at all, 5 percent do not buy sugar, and 5 percent do not consume fruits.
If the RMG workers were to consume food as per the at the standard set by the CPD, they would need to be paid a minimum of Tk 17,568 a month.
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at the CPD, said "There is still time to renegotiate and refix the minimum wage over the next 14 days."
He urged all to take into account the workers' demand or the CPD's estimates.
This minimum wage falls significantly short of the living wage, an income level that affords a decent standard of living, according to estimates calculated by the South Asia Network for Modelling (SANEM) in January this year.
SANEM interviewed over 1,300 workers and found that the living wage would be between Tk 19,200 to Tk 26,000, depending on the areas where a worker lives.
Selim Raihan, the executive director of SANEM, said if inflation is taken into account, the living wage would be higher.
"The workers' concerns are not reflected in the minimum wage. The balance of bargaining power is tilted towards the owners and the state supports this. Every time the minimum wage needs to be set, the same excuse about the industry losing competitiveness is put forth. Bangladesh still has the lowest minimum wage among its competitors."
Thousands of workers had demonstrated for 12 days demanding a hike in the minimum wage. Nearly 500 factories were shut down amid the unrest. The agitation stopped and the factories reopened following reassurances made by State Minister Monnujan Sufian last Thursday.