Despite government’s repeated assurances to resolve the ‘supposed’ discriminations in the new wage scale, the garment workers have continued blocking important roads and highways around the country, giving an indication to an ‘alleged’ sabotage to put the new government in an uncomfortable situation.
Allegations run rampant that various vested quarters at home and abroad are involved in creating chaos in the RMG (readymade garments) sector in order to also disrupt the excellent growth the sector has been enjoying for the last several years.
Terming the recent violent activities as subversive, police and intelligence agencies have cautioned that the masterminds involved in such anti-state activities would be deemed as violators and stern actions would be taken against them.
“Blocking busy roads and highways in capital Dhaka and other places in the country, the RMG workers are also engaged in torching vehicles as they are being misguided by these vested quarters. Such violent activities can only be termed as subversive. The government is determined to handle the ongoing situation with an iron hand,” a highly placed source in the commerce ministry said.
Police and intelligence agencies are probing into the ongoing worker unrest in RMG sector to find out the masterminds involved in instigating workers.
In this regard, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Md Asaduzzaman Mia on Saturday said if anyone is found trying to create anarchy in the name of labour protests to realize their personal or group interest, they will be brought under strict legal process.
The intelligence agency has been instructed to investigate whether anybody is trying to create sabotage by provoking the workers’ movement, the DMP boss said at a programme in the capital.
Urging the workers to return to their workplaces, he said ministries concerned and BGMEA are working to solve their wage problems.
On the other hand, according to a report of intelligence agencies, workers’ salary increased to Tk 3,000 in the last five years but overtime wage per hour did not, which has infuriated the workers to stage protests. In this regard, some workers’ federations are constantly instigating the labours to create an unstable situation in the country’s RMG industry.
Refusing the allegation, Garment Workers’ Oikya Federation President Mosharaf Mishu said discrimination in the salary structure between skilled workers and operators has compelled them to take to the streets. It is a spontaneous protest and nobody is provoking the labours, he claimed.
BGMEA vice-president Md Nasir termed the continuous protest as unreasonable. He said the new pay structure has been fixed after talking to all concerned. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself approved the new structure.
“We don’t find any discrimination in the pay scale. But to get an early solution we are continuing talks with the commerce minister, state minister for labour, and the owners and the workers,” he added.
In the newly announced salary structure of the garment workers, minimum salary has increased but the scale for the middle class workers got decreased. The basic of total seven grades has increased by Tk 412 each while Tk 48 each has decreased from only a few grades.
But the workers have been expressing their discontentment about the so-called discrimination in the pay scale. They have also expressed fury over their ‘deception’ in overtime pay and festival bonuses.
Garment workers at Dhaka, Savar and Ashulia claimed that, in the latest pay structure, their salary and overtime wage have not increased in reality.
It was declared from the government that workers’ salary has been increased by 51 per cent, but the garment owners have made clear that the increment is only 27 per cent, the workers claimed, adding that this discrimination has compelled them to take to the street to realize their demands.
However, experts in the industry said, apart from the salary structure, there are some other major reasons why the workers have kept protesting and blocking the streets. They said there are also negligence of garment owners, stark absence of coordination between BGMEA and its related organisations, lack of clear knowledge in workers about the new pay system, workers’ mental stress for excessive work and most importantly provocation from vested quarters.
Experts, as a result, warned that if the situation cannot be brought under control at the earliest, it might pose long-term effects on the country’s leading export sector, which might make the sector lose the competition in the international market. And it might ultimately affect the overall economic growth of the country very badly.
They made suggestions for taking concerted actions to fix the problems in the pay scale as well as other glitches in the industry to bring stability to the industry.
Meanwhile, the committee formed, comprising two secretaries of ministry of commerce and ministry of labour, and representatives from garment owners, by the newly elected government early this month to resolve the grading problems in the workers’ salary structure on Saturday said the basic of grade 3, 4 and 5 would be coordinated. The committee would make an announcement in this regard within a day or two.