Policy Research Institute - PRI Bangladesh

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Pressure mounts for trade union in RMG factories

News Published: Sunday, Jun 09, 2013

FRIDAY, MAY 31, 2013

Pressure mounts for trade union in RMG factories

No more blame game, says BGMEA chief; analyst rolls out 10-point reform plan


The head of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) yesterday said the industry lobby group is ready to allow trade union in factories to improve labour conditions.

“BGMEA will welcome trade union in the garment sector if it is constructive,” said Atiqul Islam, president of the association.

His comment comes at a time when pressure is mounting on Bangladesh from the international community to allow the country’s four million garment workers to form trade union in factories to make workplaces safer.

The BGMEA chief said this is not the time to play the blame game. “We should work together on how to grow.”

Islam, however, was critical of the disparate codes of conducts imposed by the buyers. “GAP has issued one set of code of conduct and H&M another — we need a uniform code of conduct.”

He said the BGMEA would suspend membership of the members who had installed generators on the roofs of their factory buildings. “In May, we instructed our members to bring down their generators from the top floors.”

The BGMEA president said his association is also in favour of increasing the workers’ wages on an annual basis.

Islam’s comments came at a dialogue titled “Post-Rana RMG Roadmap”, organised by Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI) in collaboration with Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dhaka (MCCI) and Bangladesh Employers’ Federation, at the capital’s Lakeshore Hotel.

Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of PRI, said the government might think of imposing taxes on readymade garment exports, at a rate of 1-2 percent for the welfare of the workers.

Commerce Minister GM Quader said there are a number of issues in the proposed roadmap that are already in practice in the country.

He said a government committee has been working since 2007 on improving the conditions at garment factories, sitting every three months and taking actions after physically visiting the factories.
Quader, however, wondered if the committee has enough manpower to inspect all of the country’s 5000-odd factories.

MCCI President Rokia Afzal Rahman said it is high time to make concerted efforts to ensure safety for the workers.

“We must ensure that tragic incidents such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza never take place in this country,” she said, while terming the tragedy to be an upshot of negligence.

MCCI Vice-President Kamran T Rahman said many tragic incidents hit the country’s garment industry in the past, but no significant changes have been introduced to protect the lives of the workers.
Ifty Islam, managing partner of Asian Tiger Capital Partners, said the country’s readymade garment industry requires a 10-point reform agenda to ensure the next phase of growth for the industry.
The 10-point reform covers issues on: factory classification, factory health and safety standards, BGMEA responsibilities, new RMG economic zones, financing RMG reforms, minimum wage increase, trade union, formations of new worker welfare fund, moving up the value chain and branding as well as international public relations.

The government should allocate a minimum of Tk 3,000 crore in the next budget to finance RMG reforms, he said.

The government might request multilateral and bilateral official development partners for a multi-donor fund of $1 billion on concessional terms that can be accessed by BGMEA members to finance either relocation or other necessary compliance and safety measures, he said.

The Asian Tiger head said a review of the structural integrity of factory buildings needs to be carried out and classified accordingly. In terms of ongoing compliance monitoring, there is a need to establish independent inspectorate. “BGMEA itself should consider incorporating internal reforms,”
Mashiur Rahman, economic affairs advisor to the prime minister, also spoke.