• Thursday, Apr 15, 2021
  • Last Update : 08:39 pm

Workers, employers, govt should work together for RMG workers’ rights

  • Published at 03:09 pm December 17th, 2020
RMG-garments-syed-zakir-hossain
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Plan International Bangladesh conducted three studies on the RMG workers in May, September, and October and the findings were revealed in a webinar hosted by Dhaka Tribune

A recent survey has shown that Covid-19 took a heavy toll on the health, economic condition, and mental health of readymade garments (RMG) workers.

Plan International Bangladesh conducted three studies on the RMG workers in May, September, and October and the findings were revealed in a webinar hosted by Dhaka Tribune on December 9.

According to the study, 43% of workers reported to deal with severe struggles such as, economic hardship, illness, and mental strains during the early stages of the pandemic.

The study titled “Impact of Covid-19 pandemic on youth female RMG workers: experience and mitigation strategies during lockdown in the Dhaka city, Bangladesh,” conducted during the lockdown situation in May.

It found that 10 out of 12 respondents suffered mental distress during the lockdown period as they had a fear of losing their jobs.

The study also found that 90% of the respondent workers did not receive any support during the lockdown.

The respondents said that they do not have any idea regarding how to claim financial or any other support from Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

Meanwhile, BGMEA health centres remain closed and there were no initiatives from other related officialdoms in the study area.

The study was presented by Abdullah Al Maamun, Lead-Skills & Opportunity for Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship at Plan International Bangladesh. The webinar was moderated by Dhaka Tribune special correspondent Tanim Ahmed.

BGMEA responds

Rubana Huq, BGMEA president, said: “The report says that the BGMEA health centers remain closed, however, we opened a 24-hour call centre with a hotline, one PCR lab, three sample collection booths and one isolation center in Chittagong and Dhaka each.”

“The study was done on 12 respondents from three factories located in Mirpur and Malibagh, which does not represent the whole industry,” she added.

“Thanks to the researchers that they mentioned that factory management is also under mental stress,” she said, adding that none of the studies actually look at the holistic picture. “It also highlights mental stress on workers fearing Covid-19 infection and fear of losing their job.”

“BGMEA in collaboration with Maya is working on mental health. Labor federations may engage with workers and counsel them. We are also offering regular sessions of mental health through Moner Bondhu. The trade unions should be more vocal so that international buyers would increase the price of the products they import from Bangladesh,” Rubana added.

‘Trade unions not powerful’

Nazma Akter, founder and executive director of Awaj Foundation, said: “There are plenty of trade unions but those are not really powerful enough or led by women. “

“Why does the trade union have to take initiative to push the buyers to raise prices? The owners of the garments should push the buyers. Owners and workers should work together to resolve this issue,” she said.

“Female workers are the most deprived. The workers are the first on the list when it comes to layoff. RMG workers still get less than $100. Female workers cannot even breastfeed their children as most factories do not have day-care facilities,” Nazma stressed.

Sharmin Sultana of the International Labour Organization said: “About 60% of the workers in this sector are women. However, in the managerial sector, only 5% are women. Women workers work in lower grades but when they are trained well, they become good managers.”

“The ILO reports say about 61% workers are victims of violence and harassment. When it comes to sexual harassments, mostly female workers reported to become victims of sexual harassment.  During the pandemic, this situation worsened for female workers,” she added.

Orla Murphy, country director of Plan International Bangladesh, said: “Many young women want to come to this sector because I heard them saying it was about opportunities that build the aspiration they have – supporting their family and becoming an independent individual.”

“The pandemic has brought both challenges and opportunities; however, we should work together for the opportunities we have now,” she said.

“The government should step forward to look at workers’ rights because 4.4 million people working in this sector have a huge contribution to the growth of GDP of this country,” Murphy added.

Concerns

  • Working hour remains the same – but workload increased for the workers
  • Increased incidence of GBV at home and outside of the home while it decreased at the factory level
  • 27% decrease in spending on Food – consequence nutritional deficiency
  • 52% of workers reported that they are currently in debt to the tune of average 20,000 BDT (12.000-40,000)
  • 10% received support from either government or trade unions/local philanthropists
  • Covid-19 has a severe impact on global RMG supply chain
  • Large brands have avoided their obligations towards suppliers and workers claiming bankruptcy

Recommendations

  • Workers, employers and government bodies should work together to prevent workplace violence and harassment.
  • Factories should increase support for workers’ rights and welfare following a participatory process to mitigate the losses of Covid-19 and auditing safety measures.
  • Introduce and strengthen social security mechanisms such as insurance and standard human resource related supports as per laws (gratuity, provident fund, leave, maternity benefit, career development etc).
  • Increase Covid-19 testing facilities for the workers.
  • Ensure worker’s voice through trade union and formation of trade unions.
  • Raise awareness to prevent gender-based violence in the factories and establish an active anti-harassment committee.
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