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Saturday, May 9, 2020

Save the workers first to save the industry

AT least five workers were injured as police and readymade garment workers chased each other and police lobbed teargas shells on demonstrating workers demanding wages and allowances in Gazipur on Thursday. Police and labour leaders said that the labour unrest occurred at four places in Gazipur and the chasing incidents occurred at two places. National Garments Sramik Federation President Aminul Haque Amin claimed that at least 2 lakh RMG workers working in 300 factories across the country have not been paid since March after the nationwide coronavirus pandemic shutdown began. According to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), as of April 22, among 2,274 of its members, around 92 factories had not paid wages to 48,200 workers since March. Despite a fund of Tk 5000 crore available to provide relief to RMG factories most factories have not utilised the funds. So why have they not been paid? It is quite natural for the RMG workers to protest as they live mostly on hand to mouth.
The situation for many of them has become desperate as they are unable to survive while some factories have not paid them wages fully. They are already living at or near the poverty line. So payment of even 60 percent of their wages would make it difficult for them to live as they don't have any corners which they can cut. After proclaiming success in containing the coronavirus, Vietnam is positioning itself as a safe place to do business, capitalising on demand from international manufacturers looking to diversify their supply chains away from China. Vietnam has reported a relatively small 288 cases and zero deaths, putting the Southeast Asian country on course to revive its economy much sooner than most others. Vietnam beat Bangladesh in apparel export in the last five months of 2019. During this period, the Southeast Asian country fetched around $2 billion more than Bangladesh ($12.7 billion). If the latest trend of decline in Bangladesh's apparel export continues, the country may soon lose its position to Vietnam--especially as it is transitioning well to counter the pandemic.
If we can't even pay our factory workers how can we expect to remain competitive with Vietnam, in a time where supply chains are shifting from China?