Garment factory owners have yet to prepare their proposal to set new wages for workers with only a few days remaining to fix wages within stipulated time after the formation of the wage board on 9 April.
According to labour law, new wages have to be fixed within six months after the formation of a wage board. But the owners say they could not make their proposal as they need more time to review their business situation amid the ongoing global economic slowdown.
Since the formation of the wage board, only two meetings have been held. In the second meeting, representatives of both the employees and factory owners were supposed to submit their respective proposal for the workers, but that did not happen.
Although there was talk of holding the next meeting within September during the latest meeting on 9 August, it did not happen. Now the meeting will be held on Sunday (1 October).
However, even in today's meeting, the employers are not submitting their proposal. There is also uncertainty on the part of the labour representatives about submitting proposal.
Siddiqur Rahman, a representative of the RMG owners, and also industries and commerce secretary to the Awami League, told The Business Standard, "We are not submitting the proposal tomorrow (Sunday) because our discussion has not concluded yet."
He went on to say, "Many factories do not have work orders. We have also seen this situation abroad, and it is not good there either. We are waiting for further developments to see if the situation improves."
He, however, informed that they will try to submit their proposal in October.
Sirajul Islam Rony, a representative of the labour union and also the president of the Bangladesh National Garments Workers Employees League, told The Business Standard, "If the employers submit their proposal, we will too."
When asked if the workers' side will submit its proposal in case of non-submission by the employers, he said, "We are not sure."
Representatives of the labour union consider this as a "tactic" by the owners.
Rashedul Alam Raju, former general secretary of IndustryAll Bangladesh Council-IBC, stated, "After waiting for so long without receiving any proposal, it seems like a deliberate tactic to delay the process. In the end, it may be an attempt to declare a unilateral decision on wages, keeping the workers and labour organisations in the dark. This seems to be their main strategy."
He continued, "The majority of labour organisations are demanding a minimum wage between Tk23,000 and Tk25,000. If the announced wage is lower than this, there will likely be protests. To avoid that, perhaps they are employing this strategy."
During the latest meeting in August, Liakot Ali Mollah, the chairman of the Minimum Wage Board of the labour ministry, informed journalists that the finalisation of the new wage would be completed by November.
Advocate Jafrul Hasan Sharif, a labour law expert, told TBS, "According to labour law, the board will propose a new wage to the Ministry of Labour within six months of its formation. However, if necessary, the ministry can extend the timeframe."
Currently, the minimum wage for garment workers in the country is Tk8,000, which was finalised at the end of 2018.
The first minimum wage board in the RMG sector in Bangladesh was formed in 1984 at Tk560. So far, the wages of workers in this sector have been revised six times.
The Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) released a study report in January titled "RMG sector minimum wage: proposition calculation and the rationale," which compared the wages of garment workers in Bangladesh to those in nine other countries, revealing that Bangladesh has the lowest wages in the apparel sector.
The study shows that the minimum wage for garment workers in Bangladesh is $75.50 whereas $262 in China, $128 in India, $137 in Indonesia, $194 in Cambodia, $250 in Malaysia, $244 in the Philippines, $168 in Vietnam and $307 in Turkey.