The continuous unrest in the apparel sector compelled the newly appointed Commerce Minister and State Minister for Labor and Employment to hold a meeting with the stakeholders on Tuesday
Long after the declaration of the new minimum wage board for the garment sector, confusion still reigns in the debate over how beneficial the new wage structure is for millions of apparel workers.
In their understanding, the RMG (readymade garment industry) workers find lots of anomalies as far as gaps among the various salary grades are concerned in the minimum wage board announced by the government back in mid-September last year. Some of them also pointed at disincentives in certain aspects of the wage board where they claim basic salaries are compromised.
As the contentious grade issues are not amicably resolved yet through any tripartite arrangement involving the workers, RMG owners and the government, there has been on and off flaring up of violence in RMG industrial belts over the past few months, the latest being staged over the past three days claiming one life and hurting many others. Rowdy agitators also torched a bus on the second day of three-day violent protest till Tuesday.
On September 13, the Bangladesh government set Tk8,000 as the minimum monthly wage, with Tk4,100 as basic salary, for the country’s apparel workers.
The continuous unrest in the apparel sector compelled the newly appointed Commerce Minister and State Minister for Labor and Employment to hold a meeting with the stakeholders on Tuesday.
The meeting took the decision of forming a 10-member committee with representatives from workers, owners and government officials to resolve the wage structure mismatch issue.
Where is the discrimination in the new wage structure?
After the gazette notification on new wage restructure, trade union leaders raised questions about the basic wage and gap among the grades. But the owners did not subscribe to that resulting in the staging of demonstrations by workers to realize the demands.
Later, the trade union assessed the wage and found the discrimination, which was placed to the government.
“In the new wage structure, we have found a cut in the basic salary and a wide gap among the different grades. As per our calculation based on a 5% yearly increment on basic wage, basic salary of three grades have been cut by Tk405 in grade-1, Tk412 in grade-2 and Tk40 in grade-3,” Mahbubur Rahman Ismail of the Bangladesh Textile Garment Workers’ Federation told the Dhaka Tribune.
In the new wage structure, basic salary for grade 1 is set at Tk10,440, which stood at Tk10,845 with a 5% increment.
While basic salaries for Grade-2 and Grade-3 are set at Tk8,520 and Tk5,160, which stood at Tk8.932 and Tk5,120 respectively with a 5% increment.
“On behalf of the trade union, we have placed a written document showing the discrimination and hoped to see a solution within this month,” said Rahman.
“I came to know that the basic salary of some grades is not increased in line with the government decision of a yearly 5% increment; the wages of the upper grade did not enhance as seen in lower grade,” Khokon, a worker of the Savar area told the Dhaka Tribune.
Therefore our demand is adjustment of the wages in the new wage structure and reducing the gap between the grades, he added.
Md Abdur Razzak, unit Head of Standard Group in Savar denied the allegation and told the Dhaka Tribune that the salaries will be given as per the new wage structure.
BGMEA leaders could not be reached last night over the phone after repeated attempts for comments.
“In setting a minimum wage, the board should take into consideration how much the median wages increased and what gapare there between grades,” Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Research Director Khondaker Golam Moazzem told the Dhaka Tribune.
On the other hand, the wage board did not take the yearly 5% increment into consideration, which created the crisis over the wage increment, said the economist.
In the previous wage structure, government set Tk5,300 as minimum wage with a 5% yearly increment in 2013.
Decrease in basic deprives workers
The basic salary of an operator was Tk3,000, which was 56.60% of the total salary of Tk5,300 in the previous wage structure. On the other hand, in the new wage structure, basic salary has been increased to Tk4,100 which is 51.25% of the total salary of Tk8000.
This will cut the benefits such as gratuity and overtime of workers as it is based on basic salary.
“Though, the new wage structure has increased the minimum wage by Tk2,700 it has deprived the workers as the basic did not increase based on other calculation of benefits such as gratuity and overtime,” Nazma Akter, president of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation told the Dhaka Tribune.
She also opined that this happened because of lack of proper worker-representative in the minimum wage board.
The worker-representative should prioritize the workers’ interest but it did not happen. In December last year, the BGMEA and the government pledged to resolve the discrimination between grades before the election, said Nazma.
How to fix the problems
Since there is a problem over the basics in grades 1,2, and 3, the government has to find a solution to this to quell the agitating workers.
“It is a fixation problem and it can be resolved through adjustment of increment already given to the workers in the previous years,” said Moazzem.
In line with the direction in the wage board, a worker is supposed to get four to five increments in last five years and through negotiation with the worker-representatives the owners can offer two increments with the new wage, he added.