Lawmakers, labour leaders and analysts yesterday called for at least doubling of the minimum wage for the country's garment workers to help them lead a decent life.
“The garment owners' proposal for a Tk 600 wage hike is inhumane,” said Wajed-ul Islam Khan, general secretary of Bangladesh Trade Union Council, said.
"These workers are demanding a wage that will allow them to lead a decent life," he said at a dialogue, Revision of the Minimum Wage in the RMG Sector, organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) at the Cirdap auditorium.
The issue of minimum wage came to the fore after the government, following extensive criticism, formed a new wage board in June.
The workers' representative on the board demanded that the monthly minimum wage be hiked to Tk 8,114 from the existing Tk 3,000, but the owners are willing to increase by 20 percent.
"There is no scope to set a minimum wage below Tk 8,000," said Nazrul Islam Khan, secretary general of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS).
Jos Huber, first secretary of the embassy of Netherlands for CSR garment sector, said: "A few days ago I went to a slum where I met a garment worker who toils for 12 hours everyday for Tk 3,000. I don't think that it is a fair wage."
MM Akash, a professor of economics at Dhaka University, said the garment owners would have to sacrifice 25 percent of their profits to provide the workers a decent wage.
"If they raise the wage in line with the workers' demand, the competitiveness of the industry will not erode," he said, while citing the case when the minimum wage was last raised.
The minimum wage was most recently increased in November 2010 from Tk 1,662.5 to Tk 3,000.
CPD, however, recommended that the minimum wage be raised to Tk 6,560, this time.
ZM Kamrul Anam, coordinator of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, said the CPD's recommendation has validated the workers' demand. "Now the owners need to provide proof to support their recommendation for a Tk 600 hike."
Awami League Lawmaker Apu Ukil said: "Garment owners only talk about how the workers' lives got a lift because of their hiring -- they never mention how their own lives have enhanced because of the toils of these workers.”
Israfil Alam, chairman of parliamentary standing committee on the labour and employment ministry, said the sector could no longer get away by providing low salaries to the workers.
He urged the wage board to make their recommendations as early as possible, in order to appease the unruly workers.
Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of CPD, said the two parties would have to compromise. "The workers have to have their just rights. On the other hand, we also have to be careful so that the industry survives and our exports go up."
"We need a wage structure that at least gives the workers a decent living condition," he added.
Sultan Ahmed, assistant secretary general of BILS, said if the owners agree to the demand of the workers it would only give them more claws to bargain for higher prices with the international buyers.
However, Khondaker Golam Moazzem, additional research director of CPD, who presented the recommendations, said the upward adjustment of wages could be implemented if the retailers are prepared to provide better cutting and making charges.