The wage board once again failed to reach consensus over the new salary structure for garment sector yesterday as the workers' representative deemed the owners' proposal too low.
“The offer [of Tk 4,250 per month] is way below our expectations. It is simply unacceptable,” Sirajul Islam Rony, workers' representative on the wage board, told The Daily Star.
As a middle ground, Kamal Uddin, independent member of the six-member board, proposed for Tk 5,000 per month as minimum salary for garment workers.
Of the amount, Tk 3200 would be basic pay, Tk 1280 housing allowance, Tk 320 medical allowance and Tk 200 transport allowance. Food allowance, however, would have to be given separately.
“Even that is unacceptable as it would not afford us a decent living standard,” Rony said, adding that he would continue to bargain for a higher minimum wage.
Arshad Jamal Dipu, owners' representative on the board, however, said it would not be possible to go beyond Tk 4,500.
Following the twin disasters of Tazreen fire and Rana Plaza collapse and the ongoing political turmoil, the garment owners are already on the back foot, he told journalists after the meeting.
“Global garment trade is a different beast now – it is extremely competitive. Increasing the minimum wage upwards of Tk 4,500 would break our garment industry.”
He cited the case of Vietnam, which exported garment items worth $17.80 billion in 2012 with only 1.5 million workers. In contrast, for a little higher export receipts (around $20 billion), Bangladesh used more than double the labour (four million).
“Were our workers' productivity as high as Vietnam's, we could afford to honour their wage demands as our garment exports then would have been around $50 billion.”
Furthermore, the garment owners want to raise the salary for all the seven worker grades -- and not just the entry level ones.
At present, 60 percent of the garment workers fall under the skilled category, which receives much higher pay than the minimum wage.
“If we expend the lion's share of our budget for wages on entry level workers, how are we going to reward the skilled ones, who, in all honesty, are more deserving of a pay rise?”
AK Roy, chairman of the wage board, is now hoping a consensus would be reached in the meeting scheduled for November 4.
Following widespread criticism and continuous labour unrest, the government on June 26 formed the six-member wage board through a gazette notification.
From the onset, the workers' representative on the wage board has been demanding a minimum wage of Tk 8,114; the garment owners were initially willing to increase it by 20 percent from the going Tk 3,000, fixed in November 2010, but in today's meeting the owners' representative placed an improved offer of Tk 4,250.