Except for Cambodia, Bangladesh still lags behind all seven Asian competitors in terms of apparel labour productivity per hour despite being the second largest garment exporter.
However, the government claims that the country's overall labour productivity increased to 3.8% between 1995 and 2016, thanks to necessary efforts taken by the National Productivity Organisation (NPO).
Quoting data from the Asian Productivity Organisation (APO), the industries ministry said 20 Asian countries had registered 2.5% growth in productivity during the period.
The hourly productivity of Bangladesh is valued at $3.4 while that of China, the largest exporter, was recorded at $11.1, according to the APO data for 2019.
The highest labour productivity was calculated in Sri Lanka at $15.9, followed by Indonesia at $12.3, it added.
Labour productivity in other apparel producing countries such as the Philippines, India, Vietnam and Myanmar, was also higher than in Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, as part of its mega plan, the government has set a target of increasing productivity per work hour by 5.6% on average per annum between 2021 and 2030.
According to data from the Ministry of Finance and the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, in 2019 existing factories had to invest around Tk4 for enhancing production capacity worth Tk1. Investment rose by Tk2 in the span of a year.
The incremental capital output ratio of Bangladesh jumped to 6.06 in fiscal 2019-20, while it was only 3.87 in fiscal 2018-19, meaning that capital productivity declined during the period.
From FY10 to FY19, capital productivity gradually increased. However, in just one fiscal year, the number decreased more than 1.5 times. In FY19, to produce an additional unit of output worth Tk1, an additional Tk3.87 worth of capital investment was needed, while in FY20, Tk6.06 was required.
The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), a Swiss-based international organisation, recently noted that about 43% readymade garment (RMG) workers are suffering from malnutrition.
Citing a report of the World Health Organisation, its officials said adequate nourishment can raise national productivity by 20%.
GAIN said providing access to nutritious and safe food for the workers can ensure utilisation of the full potential or productivity of workers.
Nazma Akter, a leader of apparel workers and founder and executive director of Awaj Foundation, said, "Malnutrition is the main reason for less productivity of apparel workers."
Workers suffer from numerous health complexities, including cardio and kidney diseases, owing to malnutrition which makes them bodily dysfunctional by the age of 40, she added.
Besides, inadequate training facilities that keep them from gaining fresh skills and efficiency are blamed for keeping them as workers forever, she pointed out.
Industry insiders said it is necessary to use modern technology, enhance workers' skills and technological knowhow and improve the working environment in apparel factories to increase productivity.
After the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013, the working environment in garment factories under the supervision of Accord and Alliance has significantly improved. As a result, Bangladesh is now home to most compliant factories in the world.
At the same time, the owners of garment and textile industries have set up more than 100 green factories and over 500 more are under construction, they added.
The leading apparel factories in Bangladesh have also started using robotics alongside different software to prevent waste, balance the use of human resources and increase productivity, they pointed out.
Fazle Shamim Ehsan, director of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told The Business Standard that Bangladesh's top garment factories have started using various software to increase productivity and prevent waste. But the owners of small and medium factories could not afford to buy such software.
Meanwhile, on the occasion of National Productivity Day 2020 on Friday, Minister of State for Industries Kamal Ahmed Mojumder said in order to strengthen the culture of productivity, Bangladesh like developed countries will have to improve the working environment in factories, guarantee workers' safety and ensure a proper use of raw materials.
Industries Secretary KM Ali Azam presided over the programme, while Additional Secretary of the Industries Ministry Lutfun Nahar Begum was the special guest. The director of the National Productivity Organisation delivered the welcome address at the event.
KM Ali Azam said, "Maximum utilisation of resources must be ensured to increase productivity. We have to follow the strategies of Singapore and apply those to increase productivity."