Brac OSSCs a saving grace for RMG workers

At least 56,000 female RMG workers have benefited from Brac One-Stop Service Centre 

At the age of 16, Sharmin Akhter was married to Roni, a construction worker. The couple moved to Dhaka from Bhola. Married life has, however, been far from pleasant, with physical and mental torture starting from the very beginning as her husband pressured her for dowry.

Roni was not only abusive but also aloof and irresponsible with finances. He would spend his evenings and earnings with his friends, seemingly coming home only to beat his wife.

Sharmin took a job at a garment factory in Tongi in 2018 to support her children, the first of whom was born in 2016. But Roni’s torture only increased in intensity until one day he seriously injured her. 

Dhaka Tribune

Roni abandoned Sharmin at a hospital and fled. She then had no trace of him for three months.

Sharmin later lost her job as she was unable to attend work due to her injuries and illness.

One day, a neighbour saw Sharmin struggling to support her child and told her about the Brac One-Stop Service Centre (OSSC).

“I just entered the office and said that I couldn’t find my husband and he wasn’t taking responsibility for the children anymore. They told me that they would provide all the legal assistance that I needed,” she told Dhaka Tribune. 

OSSC lawyers sent letters to Sharmin’s in-laws three times and arranged a few sessions to hold discussions with the family. “They told him about being good to the family and taking responsibility for the children. They also told him he would be sued if he tortured me.”

The lawyers also informed him that he would have to keep paying an allowance to his wife and children if he wanted a divorce, or once again face a lawsuit. 

Dhaka Tribune

After that, Roni started living with Sharmin once again. He is now working as a van driver.

The OSSC not only helped save her marriage, but also her health and employment.

“I became very ill and we did not have money for treatment. In June 2019, I got a health insurance card from OSSC and saw a specialist at a listed hospital free of charge,” Sharmin said.

A CT scan recommended by the doctor found that Sharmin had suffered some brain damage. “A neurologist gave me a prescription and I got well by taking free medicine. I recovered and started to work again.”

Later, training from the same OSSC allowed her to get a new job with significantly more income as a sewing machine operator.

After her second child was born 10 months ago, Sharmin had to stay home for eight months to watch over the child. She was then able to resume work by keeping her child safely at the OSSC daycare centre.

The OSSC has also helped Sharmin build up savings through a deposit scheme, which was crucial to helping the family through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“After five years, I will buy a sewing machine and want to open a tailor shop. I am planning a secure life with my children,” she told Dhaka Tribune.

At least 56,000 female RMG workers like Sharmin have benefited from the OSSC, set up under Brac’s Empowering RMG workers in Urban Slums of Dhaka (ERMG) project.

Brac says it is providing RMG workers with six services under this project, including skill development, primary health and nutrition services, legal aid services, financial inclusion services, and online health and psychosocial support.

Around 39,000 RMG workers have received healthcare support at a nominal fee or free of cost through the OSSC. As many as 1,800 workers have received training in sewing, 3,906 received legal support, and 11,595 workers received financial support. Brac provides a 50% premium on financial support.

Brac Urban Development Project Program Manager Sk Mojibul Huq said: “We are providing many services at one place for RMG workers through the OSSCs in Savar, Tongi and Gazipur. These services are being provided to them completely free. This is our pilot project, which will run till December 2022.

“We have memorandums of understanding with 29 factories under this project and these factories hire trained workers from us. As many as 98% of our workers were recruited after being trained here,” he added.

Mojibul further said Brac is in discussions with garment factory owners over the continuation of the OSSCs after the end of the project.