The prolonged political turmoil over the next general election is not only degrading the country’s political climate but also creating a scope for the readymade garment (RMG) owners to dodge the workers’ demand for hiking their minimum wage, observed workers’ leaders.
Though both Awami League and BNP claim to represent the majority of the people, the causes of 4 million garment workers - the rights to earn living wages, safe working environment, and to have the real scope to form basic trade union — have received no attention in the mainstream political agenda, they alleged.
Garment Workers’ Unity Forum President Moshrefa Mishu said the silence and disregard could be heard loud in recent times as neither of the two parties have come forward with any suggestion to resolve the dispute between the unions and the owners over the minimum wages in the sector, reports UNB.
The mechanism of a tripartite consensus on the wages among the Labour Ministry, the workers’ representatives and the owners’ representatives through the minimum wages board is also being affected and delayed by the recent political crisis, she added.
Mishi added: “The wages were to be declared by the minimum wages board within three months of the formation, whereas the board placed its recommendations after five months. Moreover, we think the recommendation of Tk5,300 minimum wage is not at all acceptable.”
She mentioned instance when owners’ representatives declined to attend a meeting of the wages board due to hartals. “Actually, they (owners) used the hartal as alibis for delaying the process, with an aim to diffuse the movement for living wages as long as they can.”
On the other hand, she continued, the workers also had to remain cautious about declaring mass programmes to gear up the movement for Tk8,000 minimum wage, considering the chance of getting at the crossroad of the political conflict.
“Pressing home the demand for the logical minimum wage has been a tough task amid the recent political conflict. Workers have no parties and we always want to ensure that our protests are not guided towards violence and destruction of the industry,” said Mishu.
“And we see, the political leaders of both the ruling and the opposition parties are not speaking about the minimum wage.
Awami League and BNP have unlimited unity in this regard,” she said, “How can they speak for us? They actually serve the interest of the owners. Everyone knows these parties consist of a good number of RMG owners.”
Socialist Labour Front general secretary Razequzzaman Ratan said the causes of workers, farmers and other oppressed classes have always been dumped beneath the loads of the political doldrums by political parties.
Asked about the RMG owners’ denial of the recommendation by the minimum wages board and to raise the wages, Razequzzaman said, “It’s a trick by the owners as they are taking the chance from the political instability and trying to divert the focus from the demand of Tk8,000 minimum wage.”
About the owners’ threat to shut all the factories down, Razequzzaman said the owners cannot legally lay-off the factories without discussing with the workers.
Both Moshrefa Mishu and Razequzzaman Ratan noted that despite all the misty politics of the ruling class, the RMG workers are resolute to stand firm with their demands and are getting united to forge a strong movement for ensuring a satisfactory minimum wage.
“If the present condition continues, I fear the issue of the minimum wage will be resolved on the streets in the end.”