About 94% of readymade garment (RMG) workers received wages on time during the second wave (April-May 2021) of the Covid-19 pandemic while it was only one-third in the first, said a study by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
It said about 7.4% of workers were not paid during the first wave, which was 3% in the second.
But 58% received partial wages during the first wave, and the proportion was significantly lower (3.2%) in the second.
Presenting the study findings at a virtual dialogue organised by the Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh and Christian Aid Bangladesh on Tuesday, CPD Senior Research Fellow Towfiqul Islam Khan said over half of the RMG workers had suffered reductions in overtime during the first wave compared to the pre-Covid-19 period.
This was relatively low during the second wave, he said.
He also said RMG workers' household income had decreased by about 11% in March this year than February 2020.
The survey was conducted among 500 RMG workers' households in four districts – Dhaka, Chattogram, Gazipur, and Narayanganj – in June this year.
Ninety-nine workers in the surveyed households were retrenched during the pandemic.
About 67% of the households said they had to borrow money due to hardships during the second wave while their debts were higher in the first.
Towfiqul said it would take at least two years for the surveyed households to repay their loans or recover their lost savings.
CPD Chairman Professor Rehman Sobhan said the pandemic had created various uncertainties in RMG workers' lives.
He said the government, entrepreneurs, researchers, and the civil society should work together to ensure workers' rights.
Besides, he suggested research on workers' insurance and emphasised the need for trade unions' coordination.
Convenor of the Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya said the industrial sector's outlook for the next 30-40 years and workers' earnings should be discussed.
He said workers keep the economy rolling, but they had not received financial security when they had needed it.
There should be an emergency fund for workers, he said.
He also emphasised ensuring workers' social rights and security as well as more effective inclusion of women in the workforce.
Former president of Bangladesh Textile Mills Association A Matin Chowdhry said Bangladesh has the potential to grow its apparel exports in the next few years.
Discussing the fourth industrial revolution, former Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president Rubana Huq said workers would have to prepare for the upcoming changes.
She said workers would have to receive further education and gain new skills.
Taslima Akhter, president of the Bangladesh Garment Workers' Solidarity, said wage assessment should be considered now as workers are constantly worried about getting paid.
She said employers and the government should set up an emergency Covid-19 fund for workers.
Research and Policy Integration for Development Chairman Dr Mohammad Abdur Razzaque said an increase in automation in the RMG industry in the next few decades would jack up production, but job opportunities might shrink.
CPD Distinguished Fellow Professor Mustafizur Rahman said workers would be impacted more if productivity fell as Bangladesh exports products.
Christian Aid Bangladesh Country Director Pankaj Kumar said the development of external aspects of the RMG industry should be discussed.