Readymade garment (RMG) workers are going to receive full salary for the month of November – when factories shut down amid a series of protest demonstrations – on humanitarian grounds.
The decision came despite nearly 78 factories announcing “no work, no pay” policy under the labour act. However, workers who have been found involved in torching of factories, will not get their salary for November, and legal procedure against them will continue.
Although the salary should have been paid on December 8 as per the labour law, owners are delaying payment due to financial issues. It is expected that most of the factories will be able to pay within this week.
The gazette for new RMG wage structure has been signed by the State Minister of the Labour and Employment Monnujan Sufian, and forwarded to the Bangladesh Government Press. The gazette will be published this week, sources say.
Confirming the matter to The Business Post, BGMEA Vice President Shahidullah Azim said, “We believe that outsiders were involved in the vandalisation and torching of factories. This is why we are going to pay our workers fully.”
On October 31, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Faruque Hassan had issued a warning that entrepreneurs may halt production for an indefinite period in accordance with the “no work, no pay” provision under the labour law.
On November 1, he further threatened that previously, the owners paid full salary despite the announcement of this policy. “But this time, we will not consider it.”
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 had formed a new wage board on April 9 this year to review RMG workers’ salary. RMG 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.
After much deliberation, and violent demonstrations from workers, on November 26, the minimum wage board for the readymade garment (RMG) sector finalised Tk 12,500 as the lowest grade monthly salary.
Although not complying with the minimum salary demand, the board has reduced the salary grades from seven to four by removing grades one, two and six. It had proposed five grades in their draft gazette published back in November this year.
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 continue our peaceful protests.”
However, on the matter, BGMEA Vice President Shahidullah Azim said, “Workers are always with us, and they have accepted the new salary structure – fixed by the RMG minimum wage board on November 26.
“The new structure will be implemented from this December, and workers will get the salary from January.”