The Cabinet Division has directed two ministries and five deputy commissioners to take effective measures to clear ready-made garment workers' arrears after a confidential government report revealed that owners of some factories located in the capital and its surrounding districts are not paying salaries on time, which could trigger labour unrest.
In a letter recently sent to the ministries and deputy commissioners, the Cabinet Division said, "A large number of people work in garment factories in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur, Narsingdi and Munshiganj districts. Many factory owners are often unable to pay workers' salaries on time, due to which the workers get angry and sometimes create disturbances by blocking the roads.
"There is fear of widespread labour unrest due to arrears. Effective steps need to be taken by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) to address these issues."
A copy of which has been obtained by The Business Standard.
At a press conference yesterday (29 August), Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also mentioned that some garment factories are not able to pay salaries to their workers.
"A few days ago, a garment factory was not able to pay workers' salaries and they [workers] went to the owner's house. After being informed, I had to take action immediately. I told them [workers] to go home and I will see about the arrears," said the premier, adding that her party always worked to protect the interests of the workers.
However, industrial police and garment industry owners said there is no fear of any kind of unrest even though some garment factories are not able to pay workers on time.
"There is a problem [regarding salaries of workers] and sometimes workers take to the streets. But there is no danger of unrest," Mahbubur Rahman, chief of Industrial Police (Additional IGP), told TBS.
Shahidullah Azim, vice president of BGMEA, said, "It is true that some factories are delaying payment of salaries due to late receipt of export proceeds and low orders. But, I do not see any risk of labour unrest for this.
"I have not received any directive in this regard from the Cabinet Division or anywhere else."
When asked about the number of factories unable to pay workers' wages, the BGMEA vice president could not provide any figure.
Officials of the Cabinet Division told TBS that intelligence reports are showing that various parties are trying to create chaos in the country ahead of the general election. Since many garment owners are not able to pay workers on time, it could also anger the workers and create turmoil.
The Ministry of Labour is also aware of this matter. On Tuesday, a meeting was held in the ministry regarding the outstanding salary of workers of a factory called Stylecraft Limited.
Tawhidul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Apparel Workers Federation, said, "A factory called Stylecraft had a late-night meeting in the ministry yesterday. Opex Garments Ltd in Dhaka's Mirpur is also facing a problem with workers' dues. We have information that about 25 factories in Gazipur and Ashulia are not paying salaries on time."
Tawhidul believes that the situation arose mainly due to the fact that small and medium-sized factories are not getting enough work orders.
Welcoming the government's cautious stance on garment workers' salaries, he said, "We want such initiatives to continue throughout the year, not just during elections."