Shahida Akhter, an operator who dreamt of better wages because of the recent RMG workers’ protests, does not know how the new Tk20 raise will improve her family’s and colleagues’ lives
Ten years ago, Shahida Akhter lost her family house because of river erosion in Lalmonirhat. So she migrated to Dhaka with her husband and three-year-old daughter to make a living.
Finding it comparatively easy to find work at a ready-made garment (RMG) factory, she took a job as a helper with a Tk3,000 monthly salary at Ha-Meem Group in Savar, and is still working there.
Three years later, Shahida became an operator and is now earning Tk8,855, in accordance with the newly-announced wage structure.
Although Shahida earns about three times more than she did 10 years ago, not much has changed in terms of her standard of living because the cost of living has risen manyfold.
From Shahida's salary, she pays Tk2,200 as rent for her home, a tiny room in Jambura Bottola, Savar. The house rent was only Tk300 when she came to Dhaka a decade ago.
The home measures 225sqft and has an attached toilet. Shahida lives there with her husband and two daughters.
She pays a Tk1,100 gas bill, pay-per-use electricity bill, and Tk500 cable line bill; plus her food costs are an average of Tk5,000 per month.
When calculated, the fixed cost per month consumes all her income without leaving her money to save.
Shahida's husband, who is a carpenter, has not been able to earn more than Tk300 per month as he has had chest pains throughout the year.
For Shahida, it has always been difficult to make ends meet.
When her husband needs more medicine, the cost has to be deducted from their food budget.
“If the children become ill or they need new clothes, it comes from shrinking the food budget,” says Shahida.
Shahida’s eldest daughter Alo Akhter studied up to grade six in a school operated by Brac. However, according to her mother, once Alo discovered her mom was the sole earner and the family’s income did not cover its costs, Alo got a job at a jute shop by a garment factory.
One of Alo’s many dreams is to have a wooden bed in the house. This turned into reality just a few days ago.
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“Last month my mother bought a bed for Tk17,000. My salary is Tk4,000, from which we pay Tk2,000 as a monthly instalment for the bed,” she said.
Shahida’s sister Jahida Akhter lives in another room next door, along with Jahida’s five-year-old son and parents.
The two sisters work at garments factories to support their eight family members. A year after the river eroded, Shahida’s whole family came to Dhaka. After that, Jahida began working in a garment factory by Standard Group.
“We cannot ignore the basic needs, and all we can sacrifice is from the food budget. The children do not get nutritious meals because of this,” said Shahida.
Shahida’s low earnings make her unable to ensure an education – a basic right – for her 13-year-old and nine-year-old girls.
With overtime, Shahida now earns Tk12,000.
However, like other women, she also wants to have a Tk15,000 salary with overtime to change her family’s situation.
“Even if the wage raise was Tk3,000, it could significantly change our lifestyle,” said an enthusiastic Shahida.
Shahida had been dreaming of a better wage because of the recently-held protests by hundreds of RMG workers in Bangladesh, but the revised wage announced by the government on January 13 said workers of grade 5 would now earn a gross wage of Tk8,875 – a Tk20 raise from their previous wage.
Shahida is unsure how her Tk20 raise can be used to ensure a better living for her, and for her colleagues who work at the same grade in Bangladesh’s RMG sector.