The relocation of unsafe factories requires a medium- and long-term solution for the Bangladesh readymade garment sector to sustain, suggests Policy Research Institute (PRI) in its reform agenda “The Post-Rana Reform Roadmap.”
It outlined 10 reform agendas as the key issues on both in terms of the immediate post-Rana Plaza safety and compliance issues in the seminar organised by Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), Bangladesh Employer’s Federation (BEF) and the PRI on Thursday at a hotel in the capital.
The points include factory classification, health and safety standards or compliance monitoring, BGMEA responsibilities, new RMG economic zone, financing RMG reforms, minimum wage increase, trade unions, formation of new worker welfare fund, moving up the value chain, branding and international PR management.
Commerce Minister GM Quader was present at the seminar as chief guest while Adviser to the Prime Minister (economic affairs) Mashiur Rahman and BGMEA President Atiqul Islam were special guests.
The roadmap points out that at least 1,000 factories need relocation and total cost would be in the region of Tk100bn which could be funded initially by the government and development partners, and paid back over time by the owners. Such relocation can be carried out in phases and can be set up in different clusters based on the availability of suitable land.
The April 24 collapse of Rana Plaza that housed five garment factories claimed lives of over 1,125 people, mostly female workers.
The road map suggests an initial government allocation of Tk30bn in the upcoming budget or as a special RMG support fund. It also speaks for a modest export tax of perhaps 1-2% of the FOB (freight on board) value that could be time-bound and also earmarked for the ring-fenced Tier 3 factory refurbishment.
“The government has already taken necessary steps to shift the noncompliant factories. Besides that, we have also decided to increase the number of inspectors to complete inspection of compliance of all factories,” Quader said.
He also said as a regulator, the government could fine and punish those responsible for not following factory compliance.
The roadmap also pointed out that the BGMEA should also conduct unannounced fire drills, after giving fire training to the factories for at least 3 months. It should also impose a requirement on its members who are leasing facilities to check the property and building documents to verify whether the building is in compliance with the local zoning codes, and the non-complaint facilities to be vacated within a specified period.
The BGMEA president said: “We need a unified code and conduct so that all factories can follow it easily. The BGMEA has already asked all factories to submit reports on soil test and structure of building. If anyone fails to submit the reports within the scheduled time, we will take punitive action.”
The road map also stressed that minimum wages in the RMG sector needed to be addressed. The government has already announced an immediate review of the minimum wage applicable in the garment sector and has formed a wage board under the Labour Ministry, which will fix the minimum wage to be applicable from May 1.
The previous wage board raised the minimum monthly pay for garment workers to Tk3,000 from Tk1662.50 in 2010. It suggested that the proposal of minimum wages should be linked to productivity.
Atiqul Islam said they accepted the new wage board. He, however, claimed that people especially women who lived in village like slave, “we give them freedom by garment work because of they are now able to earn money.”
Executive Director of Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS) Kalpona Akter said the government should not make any plan keeping the workers in the sideline because they are the “key part” of this sector. “Workers must be assured decent wages, union rights and safe workplace.”
On the right to trade union, the roadmap suggested that owners could engage in a bi-monthly exchange of ideas and could interact with the workers and their representatives directly. Initiatives like free education for workers’ children, talent contests, training centre for improvement of skill and to raise awareness on rights and issues were suggested in the road map.
The commerce minister said the government must allow trade unions.