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RMG buyers concerned over unrest, violence

Arifur Rahaman Tuhin
15 Nov 2023 21:48:11 | Update: 16 Nov 2023 12:01:48
RMG buyers concerned over unrest, violence
RMG workers protest for raise in wages with arms in hand at Mirpur, Dhaka recently — Courtesy Photo

Buyers Office Representative Forum in Dhaka, also known as the Buyers Forum, has expressed dissatisfaction over the ongoing readymade garment workers’ unrest, which left four people dead and injured hundreds, while numerous factories were vandalised and two were torched.

More than a hundred workers have also been arrested and sent to jail in connection with acts of violence.

The forum believes that the situation not only damaged Bangladesh’s image across the world, but also negatively impacted brands, consumers, and raised questions on why Bangladesh and its apparel sector stakeholders failed to resolve the issue peacefully.

They made the comments in a meeting between the Buyers Forum and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), held in the capital on November 15.

BGMEA, however, explained that some miscreants had created instability in Bangladesh and in the apparel sector, and workers are not involved in the unrest. The apex body is trying to normalise the situation, and is ready to implement a new salary structure.

An insider, who had attended the meeting, said on condition of anonymity, “Buyers Forum basically raised three questions – why we failed to set a wage structure before June, why Bangladesh failed to address workers’ unrest, and why workers were shot dead?

“We explained the matter from our perspective. H&M, M&S, GAP, Tom Tailor and other brands believe that the violence negatively impacted the brands and consumers as they always support workers’ rights. They asked us to avoid further clashes or unrest in the apparel industry, and suggested fixing next minimum wages before the country’s national polls.”

On April 9, the government formed a six-month tenure new wage board to review RMG workers’ salary. But the board failed to achieve their goal in their due time.

On October 22, RMG makers proposed Tk 10,400 as minimum salary instead of existing Tk 8,000, where workers’ representative of the board demanded Tk 20,393. On the other hand, trade unions demanded Tk 23,000 as minimum salary for the RMG workers.

In the aftermath of apparel makers’ proposal, agitated workers started protesting on October 23 demanding Tk 23,000 as per month minimum salary considering the ongoing high inflation.

The protest turned into clashes on October 29, when police tried to force them off the streets, and fired tear shells, sound grenades, rubber bullets, and bullets.

Although the government fixed Tk 12,500 as monthly minimum salary on November 7, workers rejected the proposal and announced to continue protests.

During the protests, which started from October 23 to November 13, at least four RMG workers were killed and hundreds of injured. Agitated workers vandalised at least 25 factories and torched two factories.

To bring the situation under control and protect factories, BGMEA announced factory closures, and at least 400 factories shut production. Among them, 78 followed “no work, no pay” policy under the labour act.

Finally, on November 14, BGMEA decided to open all factories, and restart production in most of them.

On November 8, the US Department of State condemned the “attack” on RMG workers, and asked to create an environment for peaceful workers’ demonstration.

The European Union delegation led by Paola Pampaloni, Managing Director (Acting) for Asia and Pacific Department at the European External Action Service (EEAS) also raised concerns regarding the unrest and death of workers, in a meeting with the BGMEA on November 14.

BGMEA President Faruque Hassan told The Business Post, "During both meetings, we explained that the workers are not involved in the ongoing protest.

“They claimed four workers died. We explained that one died inside the workplace, when so-called protestors torched the factory. Rest of were died during the clash with law enforcement agencies.”

Saying they always with workers, BGMEA President said, “We said that to ensure a decent livelihood, we increased 56 per cent minimum salary, and an entry-level worker will be earned at least Tk 16,150 monthly including overtime and other facilities, and it will rose to above Tk 20,000 factory to factory basing.”

BGMEA sought 5%-10% price hike

In the Buyers Forum meeting, BGMEA claimed that they increased 56 per cent minimum gross salary and basic salary increased from 51 per cent to 63 per cent. They added that the new wage structure will be implemented from December 1.

Due to the salary hike, factories’ production cost rose by 40 per cent, and to adjust this, BGMEA sought buyers’ support.

BGMEA Director Faisal Samad said, “We also explained that the government increased most of the utility services charges including power and energy. That means our production cost will rise by almost 70 per cent after implementation of the new wage structure.”

Claiming only up to 10 per cent unit price hike needed to implement the new wage, Sparrow Group Managing Director Shovon Islam said, “Buyers assured us that they will try their level best as they [buyers] are doing business here for a long time.

“They said that they do not have any plans to shift from Bangladesh in case of an 8 per cent - 10 per cent price hike. But they want a sustainable apparel sector in Bangladesh.”