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Proposed RMG wages ‘barely make a dent’

Arifur Rahaman Tuhin
18 Nov 2023 23:29:50 | Update: 19 Nov 2023 15:51:24
Proposed RMG wages ‘barely make a dent’

Mofiz, who works at a readymade garment factory in Ashulia, was patiently waiting for a much-needed boost in his monthly salary to tackle the ever-increasing costs of living and to better take care of his family.

A grade-6 worker, now categorised under grade-4 in the proposed structure issued by the Wage Board through a gazette on November 11, will be getting Tk 13,025 per month, a mere Tk 525 difference compared to the minimum wage of Tk 12,500.

Working for seven years in the RMG industry, Mofiz is currently getting Tk 8,750. He was hoping for his basic salary to be 63 per cent of his gross wage, but it was set at 54.12 per cent by the proposed structure.

Sharing his disappointment with The Business Post, Mofiz said, “We had demanded a minimum wage of Tk 23,000 per month, but the proposed figure is nowhere near the amount. The top-grade wage is only Tk 14,750 per month and Tk 2,250 more than the lowest grade.

“We previously had seven grades. We had asked the wage board to eliminate grades five and six. But the board got rid of grades one and two – which were the top paying grades in this sector. The proposed wage structure barely makes a dent in the RMG wage issue.”

He added that the overtime rate has dropped by Tk 10 for the grade-5 workers as their basic has been set at 53 per cent or Tk 6,700 per month. This decrease has hit all other grades as well.

Mofiz is not alone, and many share his sentiment on the proposed wage.

Sirajul Islam Rony, the government-appointed RMG workers’ representative to the minimum wage board, said, “I demanded that basic be 62 per cent of the gross salary. I will fight in the final meeting to resolve all discrepancies.

It should be noted that the board agreed on raising the basic by 63 per cent compared to the previous minimum wage, not on the basis of gross salary, according to an analysis of the recently issued proposed minimum wage gazette.

Echoing the same, owners’ representative in the RMG minimum wage board Md Siddiqur Rahman pointed out, “We said we will increase basic salary by 63 per cent for the lowest grade workers from the existing Tk 4,100.

“If the workers misunderstand, should we not be held responsible?”

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Faruque Hassan said, “Although the minimum salary has been proposed at Tk 12,500 per month, a worker will be able to earn over Tk 16,000, including 52 hours of overtime and attendance bonus.

“Sometimes, a low-grade worker’s wage rises to Tk 20,000 as the labour law allows for 104 hours of monthly overtime. Many factories may fail to implement the new wages and be forced to close doors because of the latest salary hike. We did the best we could.”

A heated situation

Thousands of RMG workers held demonstrations pressing home a number of demands, including Tk 23,000 as monthly minimum salary, basic to be 65 per cent of gross, and elimination of existing grades five and six.

The government formed a new wage board on April 9 this year to review RMG workers’ salary. The owners proposed Tk 10,400 to the board as minimum wage on October 22, while the workers’ representative demanded Tk 20,393.

In the aftermath of the owners' proposal, agitated workers took to the streets on October 23, and the protest turned violent from October 29, when the police removed them from streets by force, and fired tear shell, sound grenade, rubber bullets and bullets.

Workers also torched two factories, numerous vehicles, and vandalised factories, which forced owners to shut nearly 500 establishments.

Amid the situation, State Minister for Labour and Employment Monnujan Sufian announced Tk 12,500 as minimum salary for an entry-level RMG worker and said, “The salary is verbally set by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.”

Trade unions and thousands of workers instantly rejected the proposal citing the figure as insufficient and announced continued protests.

On November 8, workers again took to the streets and clashed with law-enforcement agencies. The government deployed 48 platoons of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) to control the situation.

During the clash, which started from October 29, at least four workers were killed, hundreds got injured, and a hundred were arrested and sent to jail in connection with the acts of violence.

Besides, the BGMEA claimed that their members have been forced to shutter at least 78 factories as per the labour law’s section 13/1, which means “no work, no pay.”

As the situation cooled down following police action, most of the closed factories resumed production from November 15.

Leaders of trade unions claim that workers were not involved in the vandalisation of factories, and the police are harassing protestors to halt protests. The leaders also said in the new wage structure, workers’ rights and demand have been completely ignored, and the board accepted only the owners’ proposal.

Bangladesh Garment Workers Trade Union Centre (BGWTUC) Vice President Joly Talukder said, “The board disbursed misinformation, and they only looked after the owners’ interest. We will appeal against the proposed minimum wage structure, and continue our peaceful protests.”