Apart from factory inspections, the GSP, battle between Accord and Alliance, the social problems continue in some of the garment industries in Bangladesh. While many Garment Factories have already implemented the minimum wage, some still deny their workers their wage rights, which in a way adds blemish to all the good work most factory owners are doing in implementing proper wages and safer working conditions.
Recently, there have been many hostilities in some garment factories regarding wage, and a good number of factories continue such behavior of creating restlessness out of what should have been by now a “settled issue”. Earlier on 11 April this year, ATS Pearl Ltd, a garment factory employing around 1,700 workers in Chittagong Export Processing Zone, agitated for yearly increment on the factory premises, an issue already settled in the epz minimum wage 2013.
In a case that is not only unsettling, but displays a vivid example of negative attitude, below is a case study collected from a worker in Dhaka’s Matrix Dresses Limited, where a worker expresses her story in bitterness, looking forward to a decision to end her painful experience by switching job into another factory even if she has to start all over again without benefits paid.
A female Operator, P**** (name concealed for her safety), Matrix Dresses Limited
P*** has been targeted for over a month now for her taking part in a strike to receive wages according to the BGMEA minimum wage 2013 as declared and applicable from December 2013 and payable starting from January 2014. “I am simply helpless,” she says “I am failing to keep my children fed, looking for a new job these days is not so simple with the inspections going on and the new minimum wage being implemented”, she adds “all we wanted was our minimum wage being implemented as per the gazette published by government, but even that has not happened. Who is there to listen to our grief?”
P*** works as an operator in Mirpur Section 11’s Matrix Dresses Ltd. The new Minimum Wage 2013 has not been implemented in their factory even after 5 months of its enforcement; however the cost of living jumped up expecting their wage raise, including the room rent.
“When the factory could not raise our salary according to the new minimum wage 2013, it requested us to wait till February this year, and we did. On February the owner only increased our salary marginally, which was much less than the declared minimum wage. According to the new salary structure of our factory, the helper’s salary was fixed at BDT 4000 (increased from the previous salary of BDT 3000, but BDT 1300 less from the new minimum wage 2014 which should be BDT 5300), operator’s salary was fixed at BDT 4600 to BDT 5500 (this is according to grade of operator, an increase from BDT 4000, however the correct pay should be between BDT 5678 to BDT 6805); after receiving this salary, we went back to our homes without much hassle as we could not afford it that time.”
“After returning to work the next day on 11 March 2013, we stopped work and went on strike. The management told us to work and also informed us that wages cannot be increased any further. Hearing this we asked a local trade unionist to aide us, and he assured us of Police support. After lunch-time, with us hungry and on strike, the trade unionist arrived with Police who asked us our reason for strike. We informed the Police that our current wages were illegal, and we were being paid much less than what we are supposed to get. Hearing our complaints, the Police approached the management when the owner declared that he can in no circumstances increase the wage, and whoever wants to leave may leave the job immediately.”
“Later, after the intervention of the Police and the trade unionist, the factory owner agreed to increase our wages by another BDT 200, which made the wage of the helper 4200 and the operators received between BDT 4800 to BDT 5700 (on the basis of seniority), which is still much lower than the minimum wage 2013 which we should actually be receiving.”
“Now that the minimum wage 2013 has not been implemented, and our strike is over due to the persuasion of the trade unionist, we are being frequently targeted by the management. I think it is because we were there when the strike was going on and now the management wants to get rid of us.”
“The management now frequently uses bad language at us, and if we are even 10 minutes late, they cut our attendance bonus entirely. If we ask for an off day due to illness, we are threatened to be sacked and denied of a leave.”
P*** wants to look for a new job, but if she resigns she will have to give up on much of her dues and benefits which she should legally be able to receive. The management would like it if she leaves the job herself as the management would not acknowledge any notice or anything so that they can maneuver their way out of giving her the due benefits that she is entitled to receive.
Already those who gave leadership to the strike have been sacked by the management using different allegations against them; those who were sacked are Shahin, Josna and Sajeda. “Our factory adheres to no law,” P*** says, “when there is work we work for 8 to 10 nights continuously with just an hour’s break apart from an hour of lunch break, we only get one weekend when it is an off peak season or if by chance there is no work remaining. Even when we work such long hours into the night, we are continuously cheated on our overtime payments. Right now the work is tight and we are making cloths for the following clients:
“We don’t feel that our problems have been solved, but rather we feel that we are living in a far greater problem earning a bad repute with our management. The wages are too low already and we cannot survive in this wage, and over that every day is a new challenge for us at work. We are not sure if anyone could help us. It is quite deplorable.”