Causes of Labor Unrest in Bangladesh

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Causes of RMG unrest in Bangladesh:
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The ready-made garments (RMG) sector is at present the largest source of earning foreign exchange in the country. The RMG sector started its journey in the late 1970s and experienced a real momentum from mid-1980s to mid-1990s.

The garments industry has, however, been facing multidimensional problems such as acute power crisis followed by non-tariff restriction, chronic labour unrest, lack of infrastructural facilities, inadequate supply of raw materials and accessories, lack of efforts to diversify products and markets, irregularities relating to customs, bond, and shipping.

Labour unrest is the most talked-about issue in the RMG sector. The recent clashes between workers and law enforcers have created a serious crisis and disturbed the peacful environment in the industry. Ashulia and Tejgaon were the most disturbed areas. Strikes by workers were followed by clashes which spread like an epidemic to the other garments zones. The workers demonstrated on the streets, picketed, lay siege on either the offices of the factory managers or the factories to express their grievances and demanding higher wages and better job facilities.

A reason behind the labour unrest is the absence of legal and institutional arrangements to ensure labour rights in the RMG sector. Many of the garments factories in Bangladesh are alleged not to comply with the Labour Law and ILO conventions. The Labour Act-2006 (Labour code) clearly mentions that the wage of a worker must be paid within seven workings days [Section 123 (1)]. Many garments factories do not allegedly provide appointment letters/contract letters, identity cards and employee handbooks. Proper health safety and security arranegements for the workers are absent in many garments factories. Besides, the workers do not have clear idea about their rights and labour laws.

The main reason for labour unrest is inadequate wages of the workers. The sector employs about 40 per cent of the country's industrial workforce. A recent study shows that the salaries of four million women RMG workers (comprising 85 per cent of the garments workers), working in 4,500 garments factories, are the lowest in the world for women garments workers. In some cases, the monthly wages of some factory workers is equivalent to or less than the hourly wages of a US worker.

Labour unrest has been affecting the RMG sector and the national economy negatively. As a result of the recent unrest, garments industries were forcefully closed down for a day which resulted in a huge loss for the industries because it delayed the delivery of the products.

Besides, the workers destroy their own garments machineries, break the windows and vandalise the fcactories that cause big losses for the garments owners. If the situation does not improve and stability returns, the foreign buyers might eventually lose their confidence in the RMG sector of Bangladesh. So, the labour unrest needs to be stopped at any cost by the authorities concerned, including the RMG bosses, the labour unions and the government.

The writer is a student of the Department of Business Administration, East West University. rahat344@yahoo.com

Everybody will agree that the ready-made garment (RMG) sector is the lifeblood for the Bangladeshi economy. Maintaining higher export growth every year, now the sector is the largest contributor not only to overseas trade but also to the national economy. The sector alone directly employs 3.5 million skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers. Indirectly, the garment sector, which started its journey in Bangladesh since the early 1980s, employs a few crores of people in the country. The multi-billion dollar worth garment sector has reached the current stage after a long struggle as Bangladesh does not produce the...
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