UBINIG carries out the activities with workers, particularly readymade garment workers through Sramabikash Kendra – the Trade Union Education centre. Sramabikash Kendra (SBK) is a trade Union education centre for workers, particularly workers in garment sector, informal sector and agricultural sector. SBK conducts small studies based on information collected from workers on their working conditions, health, social issues and their wages. SBK responds to immediate situations affecting the workers such as incidents like fire and roof collapse in the garment factories, termination of workers, violence against women workers, situation arising out of price rise for essentials.
Through the activities of Sramabikash kendra, UBINIG has been able to respond to very critical issues related to the workers at times when it is necessary for policy makers as well as for the Associations working with the workers. So far, Sramabikash Kendra has been able to reach:
• Readymade garment workers: 5000 mostly women workers, i.e. the majority are women workers with whom Sramabikash Kendra works.
• Informal sector workers: 1700. They are mainly rickshaw and van puller, construction labour, hawkers, vegetable sellers, brick breakers, green coconut sellers etc.
• Garment workers Associations: Presently Sramabikash Kendra is working with 25 Garment Workers’ Association and Federations in Bangladesh. We also organize procession, demonstration, media meeting and conference jointly and collectively
• Policy making bodies: Sramabikash Kendra also works with the leading and policy making organizations and bodies. We keep relation with BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer and Exporter Association), Bangladesh Garments and Textile Workers’ Federation etc.
• Media: Sramabikash Kendra has good relation both with print and electronic media. The electronic media also covers our events and they do always extend their cooperation.
The most significant role Sramabikash played was to support the injured workers after the collapse of the Sweater factory in Baipail, Savar. Spectrum Sweater Factory housed in a nine storied building at Baipail, Savar collapsed on the ground on 10 April, 2005 at about the midnight. About three hundred workers on duty were pressed inside the rabbles. The death toll was 73 as per the information of the rescuing and investigating army. A total of 84 persons were rescued alive and where about of 97 persons could not be known. Sramabikash immediately went to the spot, collected information about the damage. Sramabikash helped the injured workers in the hospitals and helped in finding the addresses of the deceased for the payment of compensation.
Sramabikash Kendra follows every garment factory incidents of fire or building collapse such as Garib and Garib, Tazreen Garment factory, Rana Plaza etc. and keeps contact with the injured workers and the families of the deceased to give them support from the relevant quarters.
The garment workers keep regular contact with Sramabikash Kendra and seek support in times of their need. On the other hand, Sramabikash kendra also undertakes campaign and advocacy works at national and international level on crucial issues.
Sramobikash Kendra, 2007
Sramobikash Kendra has been actively engaged with issues relating to labor sector particularly to readymade garment workers in Bangladesh. The major activities include the following:
2. Implementation of minimum wage
3. Compilation of Paper clippings
Workshop involving the retrenched works
Semiskilled workers have been retrenched in different garment factories on the false plea of inefficiently. A workshop was held at Narigrantha Prabartana involving such retrenched workers on 15 April 2007. It was initiated at 11: 00 AM and continued up to 1: 00 PM.
The workshop was addressed, among others, by different workers including Kazuli Begum, Operator, Azim Tower; Nurun Nahar, Helper, Azim Tower; Shabana Begum, Operator, Shyamoli Garments; Shahida Parveen, Operator, Chines Garments; Joly Begum, Helper, Khaja Garments; Shahnaz Begum, Helper, Nafs Garments.
The workers mentioned the following reasons as attached by the authorities of the Garment Factories for retrenchment:
• Without any specific reason;
• Lack of order for work;
• Availing leave of absence;
• For not narrating the same statement to the buyer as instructed by the owner;
• False plea of inefficiency;
• Claiming higher wage and
• Claiming arrears salary.
The workers presented detailed account of the constraints in terms of implementation of their activities and offered suggestions for improvement.
The constraints included:
1. Low wage;
2. Late payment of salary;
3. Job insecurity;
4. Non-availability of leave;
5. Torture, violence and inhuman treatments;
6. Unhygienic working environment;
7. Non-availability of holidays;
8. Non-payment of over-time salary;
9. Late night over-time duty and
10. Insecurity of female workers
The constraints mentioned earlier need to the addressed in order to improving upon the present state of affairs.
Workshop on minimum wage
A Workshop was organized at Adabor, Dhaka on 22 May 2007. Sramabikash Kendra organized it. The objective of the workshop was to get feed back from the workers about the non-implementation of the minimum wage. A total of 14 workers engaged in the Garment Factories attended the workshop.
Halima Begum, Bablu, Kiron, Sadia, Mahmuda and Jarina presented their viewpoints in the interactive discussion. The Garment Workers mentioned that the prevailing unrest in the garment sector was mainly due to the exploitative attitude of the factory owners and the concerned executives.
In order to avert this situation, the issue of minimum wage of workers deserved priority attention. So that the workers can buy their essential commodities, meet basic human needs and have a sense of belonging in the garment sector.
Implementation of Minimum Wage for Garment Workers
Implementation of Minimum Wage for the garment workers as recommended by the Wage Board was studied. Interactive discussions were held with the owners of the garment factories and the garment workers, separately.
There was serious unrest in the garment sector in Bangladesh during May and June 2006. Based on this background a Wage Board was constituted by the Government. Justice Anowerul Huqe headed the Board. The committee recommended the minimum monthly salary of BD Taka 1663.50 for a newly recruited garment worker in the first year during training. The workers did not accept it. Rather they demanded minimum salary of Taka 3000.00 per month. On the other hand the BGMEA and the BKMEA opposed the recommended scale of Taka 1663.50 per month. They mentioned that it could only be raised up to the maximum of Tk 1230.00 per month against the existing salary of Tk 930.00 per month.
The factory owners categorically mentioned that any further increment of the minimum wage of the workers would add to the cost of production. This may render Bangladesh garments vulnerable in the international market competition.
The Garment Industry in Bangladesh had its humble beginning from the late eighties of the last century. At present there are 22 lakh workers in 4500 garment factories. Of them 80% are women workers. They work 12 – 14 hours daily with the lowest salary on global account. They have been oppressed under the crunch of low wage and higher price of essential commodities due to rising market inflation.
Compilation of News paper clippings
News items about garment workers and information about workers in other sectors have been collected and compiled:
a. Garment sector
• Wage, overtime and weekly holiday
• Labor law
• Feature and articles on labor sector and workers
• Statements of BGMEA and garment owners
• Commitments of the government for the workers
• Protest rallies and movements demanding minimum wage
• Torture on female workers
• Violence on female workers leading to death
• Beating of workers inside the factory
b. Workers in other sectors
• Wage disparity on the same work
• Female worker
• Female weaver
• Female workers selling vegetables and betel leaf
• Female workers in bidi factory
• Female agriculture workers
Sramobikash Kendra has been implementing its activities in collaboration with Labor Unions and Labor Federations through exchange of information. Interactive discussion meetings are held with the concerned organization. The research outcomes are discussed in these meetings. The final reports are prepared based on the recommendations of these meetings. Publication ceremonies are held in the Sramobikash Kendra on account of the release of any book, poster and report. At the same time these documents are distributed among the bonafide users. In addition, national and international days like May Day, Spectrum Day (8 March), etc. are observed through meetings and rallies in collaboration with other organizations. Emergency meetings are organized in consultation with other relevant organizations in case of any desperate situation in labor sector. Labor Movement for Minimum wage, this year is an example of this type of event. Sramobikash Kendra worked through networking with other organizations during this labor movement. The networking organizations of the Sramobikash Kendra include the following:
1. Baste Shekho Nari
2. Bangladesh Institute of Labour studies (Bils)
4. Textile Garments Works Federation
5. Jatyo Sramik Federation
6. Bangladesh Shangjukto Sramik Federation
Contribution of Garment Sector to Bangladesh economy is significant. About 77% of the export earnings of the country come from the Ready Made Garments. In 2005 – 2006 fiscal, the garment Sector earned about BDT 750 crores. As per BGMEA estimate, the Garment sector will earn US$ 15000 crores in near future. This sector has been playing a commendable role in terms of employment for the working force of the country. So it is urged that the concerned authorities will give due attention to ensure proper growth and development of this sector. It is also expected that the management of the garment factories and the workers will act sincerely with sense of belonging in order to delivering the excellent goods in the challenging world market.