The authorities have fixed minimum wage as Tk 5,500 for private jute mill workers. However, millers rejected the proposed wage terming it ‘unprecedented’ as it is 168 per cent higher than the present amount.
Labour representatives have welcomed the latest wage increase but the mill owners said the hike is too much to force them to shut their units for not having the capacity to implement the declared wage structure.
A six-member committee formed by Minimum Wage Board (MWB) under the Ministry of Labour approved the fresh minimum salary-structure on May 9 but two owners’ representatives stepped out from the meeting opposing the decision.
Soon after the approval, the MWB sent the draft of the decision to the Bangladesh Government Press, commonly known as BG Press, for printing it. The last wage for the community was adjusted in 2009 as Tk 2050.
Jute millers feared that it will be a big blow for the private millers who account for more than 80 per cent of the country’s overall export earnings from jute and jute goods.
“The private sector doesn’t have the capacity to bear such a big expense. That’s why we came out of the meeting,” Labour Adviser of Bangladesh Employers’ Federation (BEF) Kazi Saifuddin Ahmed told the FE.
Mr Ahmed and Faizur Rahman Chowdhury were representatives on behalf of the industry owners at the MWB meeting held last week.
The owners’ side proposed minimum wage as Tk 2610 for the labourers, up by 27 per cent from previous wage of Tk 2050, he said.
He said that the inflation has gone up by 23 per cent over the last three years in Bangladesh. “Our proposal was made considering the inflationary pressure,” he added.
“The hike is unprecedented and it will cause suspension of production at the privately-owned units, which will not be a good sign for the industry,” he said.
The BEF labour adviser said only five per cent of the private jute millers can meet the wage-hike decided by the board as most of the factories are small ones.
He also said the burden in the form of the latest wage structure came at a time when the industry is struggling with lower export orders from the limited buyers in the current financial year.
According to Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), country fetched more than US$ 1.0 billion in the last fiscal year (FY 2010-11) by exporting raw jute, jute yarn and twine, jute sacks and bags and other goods but export earnings declined this year.
The sector witnessed a negative growth as goods worth $ 710.57 million were exported in July-March period of FY 2011-12 which is 12.5 per cent less compared to the same period of the last fiscal.
Welcoming the decision of the minimum wage board, former president of Jatiya Sromik League Shahidullah Khan said the decision was very much logical as the poorly paid workforce has been struggling for months to survive due to price hike of essential commodities.
The labour leader, who was a jute worker representative in the bargaining, said the proposal given by the owners as minimum wage was too low to stay alive under the current situation.
“The millers should immediately agree with the draft for the betterment of the industry,” he observed.
The draft includes Tk 3200 as basic, Tk 1600 as house rent, Tk 500 as medical allowance and Tk 200 as conveyance, which was Tk 1250+500+200+100 in the previous wage structure.
Prof Dr Md Kamal Uddin of Department of International Business at the University of Dhaka said the preliminary wage has been fixed considering rise in cost of living.
“Prices of all the essential commodities have marked significant rise over the last several years, which was considered while preparing the draft,” he said.
“Before finalising the salary-structure, we should consider interests of both the parties for ensuring a smooth industrial atmosphere which will further enhance export,” he added.
Bangladesh Jute Spinners Association (BJSA) and Bangladesh Jute Mills Association (BJMA) have generated nearly 0.12 million jobs in 197 mills all over the country.
While state-run Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) employs 60000 workers in its 27 factories.
Source: The Financial Express, Bangladesh (Dhaka, Thursday May 17 2012)