Minimum working wage for garment workers

The Daily Star  |  June 9, 2010

An unmet demand putting the sector to avoidable peril

A report based on minimum wage board sources appears quite revealing on important counts. First of all, a comparative analysis of pay structures for workers in ten industries clearly shows that the garment employees are among the lowest paid. Quite decidedly though, the garment sector is the most successful and profitable concern among them. It also employs the highest number of women workers among all industries thereby adding on to women's empowerment.

Thus in consideration of the pure socio-economic dividends yielded by virtue of the sector, those who work in it deserve a much better deal than they are currently getting. But should one add the signal contribution they make to the economy to the tune of 76 percent of its forex earning, how much more compelling becomes the rationale for a better deal to them!

Yet for those who splurge on their hard-earned income abroad, whenever a demand for a pay hike is raised by the workers, garment industry owners and exporters argue that it would undercut their competitive edge vis-à-vis other exporting countries. Actually, those experienced in international trade say the exact opposite: they assert that if workers salaries are raised foreign buyers tend to increase their prices too. The fact of the matter is that the buyers are only too aware of our salary structures and take that into account while offering their prices at the level they do. Besides, the question of compliance with better labour practices which have to do with acceptable levels of performance cannot be trifled with, either.

It is good to know that the government has constituted a minimum wage refixation board in January of the current year. In a meeting of the board on May 30 worker representatives demanded that the minimum salary slab be refixed at Tk 6,200, equivalent to US 90 dollar. But the owners responded by offering Tk 1,989 only i.e. US dollar 29 barely Tk 327 more than that fixed in 2006.

We regard the salary structure announced through a tripartite agreement in 2006 as being inconsistent with the cost of living and rates of inflation obtaining at that time. Even that bit of salary was allowed to fall in arrears. A good news is that the recession-induced decrease in consumer demand is rebounding abroad. So, without much ado, the minimum wage for garment workers should be raised to a remunerative level counting a family of four as a basis. Furthermore, it is equally important that regularity of payment is ensured so that the garment sector, one of the major pillars of our economy, can work to its full potential, free from tempestuous unrest it has often seen.