The vicious circle of low wages
Garment owners' dithering when it comes to wage rises has become a topic of great discussion, but little do they realise that the low wages are severely affecting workers' productivity.
The workers' productivity is measured by Standard Allowed Minutes (SAM). Say, 100 minutes has been set aside to complete a task. A Bangladeshi garment worker is able to use only 35 minutes of that allotted time, to give the country a SAM score of 35 percent, one of the lowest in the world.
In contrast, its competitors in global apparel trade—namely, China, Vietnam, India and Pakistan—score upwards of 80 percent.
One of the reasons for low productivity is poor nutrition the low wages yield.
The minimum wage for garment workers in Bangladesh at present is Tk 3,000 after it was raised 80.45 percent in November 2010.
In contrast, the floor for workers' wages in Pakistan is Tk 5,680, India Tk 7,862, China Tk 14,475, Philippines Tk 15,600 and Thailand Tk 9,318, according to Bangladesh Trade Union Centre (BTUC), a platform for garment workers.
It is a little wonder then that the workers' productivity in those countries is much higher than in Bangladesh.
Subsequently, the workers proposed a minimum wage of Tk 8,182, which the stakeholders are mulling over.
When asked, garment owners categorically said that the wages of workers cannot be increased much as the prices they receive from buyers did not increase over the years.
“Rather, in some cases the prices of some items have decreased, although the cost of doing business has increased substantially,” said a major garment manufacturer preferring not to be named.
A long-sleeved top that sold at $3.40 per piece 2005 is now selling at $2.40 per piece. It is the same story with the short-sleeved tops: what raked in $2.85 in 2005 now brings $1.75.
“The Bangladeshi garment makers are getting by increasing the volume,” said Nazrul Islam, director of National Productivity Organisation.
“The international retailers and brands should fast increase the prices so that workers can be compensated properly for improving their living standards.”