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Dhaka Tribune

Sanem: Automation makes RMG workers’ workload easier

The ‘Garment Worker Diaries’ project has been conducting weekly surveys of over 1,300 carefully chosen garment workers since April 2020

Update : 21 Dec 2022, 06:15 PM

The majority of garment workers prefer new equipment because they think it will enhance productivity, lessen their workload, and provide better quality.

It was discovered through a survey carried out by the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem), in association with the nonprofit organization Microfinance Opportunities (MFO), based in the United States.

The "Garment Worker Diaries" project has been conducting weekly surveys of over 1,300 carefully chosen garment workers since April 2020. The June 2022 study was a follow-up to this investigation on how workers see automation.

Sanem said that these labourers are engaged in industries located throughout Bangladesh's five primary industrial regions (Chittagong, Dhaka City, Gazipur, Narayanganj, and Savar).

In the study, 73% of respondents indicated a desire for a new machine, while 27% indicated a dislike for one.

They expressed a desire for a new machine during the study for a number of different reasons, and their responses reflected some common views.

Whereas another employee was extremely precise about the advantages of the new machine she already had and said: "If it helps to meet the target quickly, then I want the machine."

"I work with computer machines, it comes with a knife that cuts the yarn mechanically. The equipment can also work relatively quickly, she continued.

The workers also said that if there is a new machine, the quality of the work will be better, more orders will come and this will increase their salaries.

In the survey in June 2022, when asked whether their workload changed when they last got a new machine, overwhelmingly, 85% of workers reported that their work quota increased.

However, given the increase in workers' workload after automation, when asked whether they got paid more. 

Their responses suggest that most of them did not get paid any more than before. 

Among them who responded about an increase in their workload, 71% said their salary did not change. 

In that case, one possible justification that their employers might provide for why workers' salaries did not increase, despite their increases in productivity, is that the new machines they were using made their work easier.

On the question of how they would describe their ability to meet the new work quota, once they were comfortable with the new machine, about two-thirds (66%) said it took less time to meet their quota; 29% said it took about the same time and 5% said it either took more time or they were not able to meet their new quota with the new machine.

Regarding the work experiences with the new machines, 70% of the workers were most likely to mention how much more efficient they were with the new machines, and they also mentioned that the new machines made it easier for them to do their work (35% of workers), helped them produce better quality pieces (18% of workers), and gave them an opportunity to learn and gain new experience (8% of workers). 

“Two months have passed since the new machines arrived in our factory. These machines have made our work easy. I don't think we need any machine better than this. Work has been easier now and production has increased too,” said a worker to the surveyor. 

Overall, the share of garments workers reporting reasons for wanting a new machine are efficiency (44%), easier work (16%), better quality (16%) and many other reasons.  

According to Sanem, three-quarters of the survey respondents are women, which roughly represents the composition of the labour force in the RMG sector as a whole. 

In the previous survey, it was found that a small share of workers had experienced some type of automation of their work, and mostly this was simply an improvement in the existing technology they were using rather than a radical re-engineering of their work.


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