The garment sector’s main challenge currently is the long working hours that result from weak supply chain, poor infrastructure, insufficient utility services and high migration rates, a study finds. Though the usual work duration for a day is eight hours, workers press on for 12 hours on an average to earn some extra pay through overtime. Mohammad Hasan, Executive Director of Babylon Group, a leading garment exporter, conducted a survey on 240 garment workers at Savar in March 2018.

The study was conducted among 7,728 workers of four factories in Savar in March. It showed that Rangpur and Rajshahi divisions accounted for the two biggest sources of workers: 40 per cent and 17 per cent respectively. On another note, he said that the time served by a worker in a particular factory is very short: Operators from grade 3 to 6 were retained on an average for 2.04 years. Hasan also said that the minimum wage gazette is not accepted by all as a complete guideline for determining the sector’s wages, nor should it be believed that all were complying with it. The gazette itself creates confusions and accelerates deprivation, Hasan said, adding that workers are classified according to their grades and the factory management has the liberty to define grades according to their will. The study revealed that the grading system has many loopholes.

“These loopholes are helping the employers to manipulate in determining workers’ grade,” it said. There are so many posts and positions required to run an RMG factory that are not mentioned in the gazette, Hasan said. All focus of the gazette falls on the entry-level workers and their wages. There is no guideline on how to measure workers’ competency for a particular grade and for how long a worker will be retained in the same grade, the study said. A worker of the same sector in the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) is getting more wages and benefits for the same work like tannery workers (Tk 12,800) and shipbuilding workers (Tk 16, 000) but a garment worker outside EPZs gets only Tk 5,300, according to it. Despite their significant majority, women workers rarely get the supervisory and decision-making positions. Only 4.71 per cent supervisors and only one manager, out of the total 98 managers, are female, the study showed.

To tackle this problem, the study recommends forming a separate Ministry for Labour-intensive RMG sector for its sustainable development. It also suggests developing a delegated authority and management system as a large number of foreigners are working in RMG and its associated sectors.