BGMEA president Farooq Hasan showing the list of closed factories at a press conference amid labor protests demanding higher wages.
The Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has said it will wait and see if Western buyers will pay more than the declared minimum wage if they pay higher prices for Bangladeshi garments.
President of the association Farooq Hasan said, “In the past they (foreign buyers) also asked (to increase the price). We will again write to them, sit with them, discuss case-to-case and see which jobs and factories they increase prices. It cannot be said until the price is increased.”
Despite the announcement of the minimum wage of workers from Tk 8,300 to Tk 12,500, this topic came up in a press conference at the BGMEA building in Uttara of the capital on Sunday amid continuous labor protests and violence demanding more wages.
Even after the minimum wage of garment workers was fixed at Tk 12,500 last Tuesday, the workers’ protests are not stopping demanding higher wages.
The American Apparel and Footwear Association, an alliance of one thousand western fashion brands, has said that it is willing to increase the purchase price of clothing by 5 to 6 percent considering the labor movement. Many people are expressing the opinion that if the wages of clothing increases, it is possible to give additional wages to the workers.
In the press conference, the BGMEA chief claimed that the implementation of the fixed wages is a ‘huge challenge’ for them. He said, “At the core of our capability is the value addition of workers. Because we don’t have any raw material like cotton here.”
Addressing the workers, he said, “Our sincere appeal to the workers, you work with sincerity to increase your productivity and help the industry survive. If the industry is good, you will be good too.”
The BGMEA president demanded adequate security, claiming that the ready-made garment industry sector was ‘going through a critical situation’.
He also hinted to close the factory ‘indefinitely’ if attacks and vandalism are not stopped, alleging that there is a ‘conspiracy going on’ with this industry. He claimed that this is the ‘constitutional right’ of the entrepreneur.
Alleging that factories are being attacked with ‘provocation’, the BGMEA press conference said that the ‘deep crisis’ of the garment industry never comes up in the media.
The minimum wage structure in the garment industry is announced every five years. It has been seen time and time again that the workers have gone on strike demanding a sum much less than what the employers are willing to pay.
A negotiated wage is announced after two parties propose to the Minimum Wages Board. However, labor protests continued. Every time several workers lost their lives. This time also five workers have died.
The question of why there is disagreement between the labor representatives and the workers in the wage board has never been answered.
Some of the workers are asking for a minimum wage of 23,000 taka, some are asking for 25,000 taka. However, labor representative Sirajul Islam Roni demanded Tk 20 thousand 393 in the wage board.
BGMEA first 10 thousand 400 taka. Later, in the face of labor protests, they proposed to pay Tk 12,500 wages and the labor representative on the board accepted it last Tuesday.
But even then the protests did not stop. Every day, the workers come out of factories in Gazipur, Savar or Mirpur demanding more wages. They are also clashing with the law enforcement agencies.
Meanwhile, BGMEA has announced the suspension of new recruitments, factories have also been closed citing insecurity.
If security is not found, the factory is closed indefinitely
BGMEA president Farooq Hasan said that 25 factories were attacked and vandalized in Ashulia of Savar and Konabari of Gazipur till Sunday.
In a written statement, he said, “In the interest of the country and the industry, to protect the employment of the worker brothers and sisters, if the worker brothers and sisters do not work in a factory, leave the factory without working, vandalize the factory, then the factory authorities, worker brothers and sisters and In order to protect the safety of assets, the factory can be closed under section 13 (1) of the Labor Act.
“As long as labor vandalism is stopped, law and order forces are not able to ensure adequate security, the factory authorities can close the factory under Section 13 (1) to protect industry and property. Every entrepreneur has a constitutional right to protect his own industry and wealth from outsiders.”
The BGMEA chief said about stopping new recruitment, “Many factories have less work, buyers have stopped placing new orders, so we have asked to stop new recruitment. New recruitment will be done once the situation improves.”
If a factory has more work, he said, “This will help the factories with less work and maintain a balance between the work of all the factories and the over capacity situation that has been created will be done to some extent.” will be mitigated.”
‘Apparel industry deserves special attention’
BGMEA president said, “At this moment, a slow trend is being observed in the expatriate sector. In this situation, the garment industry, which is one of the main sectors of export income, deserves special attention.”
Claiming that the industry is being ‘slandered’ on social media, he said, “It is being said that 3 people have died in Epilion factory, which is not true at all. We strongly protest against it. It is our earnest request to the government to take strict action against those who are indulging in such malpractices.”
Farooq Hasan said that if there is instability in the industry, the workers will suffer the most.
BGMEA S. Bhapati said, “The most dangerous thing is the ability to deal with the imbalance that will be created in the socio-economic context if so many workers become unemployed. No economy.”
Allegation of incitement to disturbance
Accusing the ‘quiet’ labor group of ‘inciting’ unrest, the BGMEA president said, “We are observing with deep concern that factories are being vandalized in various places in the name of agitation despite the increase in wages.
“Ever since the wage announcement, some unidentified unruly workers in several factories went on an illegal strike over ‘unreasonable demands’ and beat up officials, causing widespread vandalism and destruction inside the factories.”
He said, “Sadly, when the minimum wage board formed by the government was working on increasing wages, there were incidents of vandalism and arson in factories.”
The BGMEA chief said that a ‘stable and peaceful environment prevailed’ in the industry for the last 5 years and was being applauded internationally, “However, there are many who are not happy with our progress. Anyone who wants to disturb this peaceful situation in any way.”
‘The crisis does not come up in the media’
Claiming that the ‘issue of the deepest internal crisis’ of the garment industry is not being revealed in the media, it was said in the press conference that 6 thousand 885 garment factories have accepted the membership of BGMEA, but 3 thousand 964 member factories have closed due to various reasons.
Out of the remaining 2,921 member factories, 2,339 have renewed their membership in BGMEA. Out of this, 1,600 member factories are working by taking direct orders from buyers.
A significant number of factories are unable to open directly back-to-back due to bank debts and deposits. So they are not able to take orders directly from customers. They sustain their business through sub-contracting.
The BGMEA president said that 317 factories closed in 2020-21 and another 260 later due to inability to maintain competitive capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic, said the BGMEA president said, “There are many entrepreneurs who keep the factories running even with losses, just to sustain the business. Paying the workers keeping the debt burden in mind.”
The BGME president said, “Their tears are connected with the success of the garment industry.”
Stating that wages in the garment industry have tripled from 2010 to 2023, the BGMEA president said, “Though the minimum wage has increased significantly over time, the capacity of the industry has not increased significantly.”
Bangladesh’s biggest market, the United States, has decreased by 23.33 percent in the first 9 months of this year, he said, adding that the rate was 33 and 34 percent in August and September respectively.
Exports to the European Union fell by 12.71 percent during this period, and fell by more than 26 percent in August. Overall, exports fell by more than 16.5 percent last October.
The BGMEA president said garment prices in the US had started to fall, “creating fresh fears for the industry.”
He also claimed that the cost of production in the garment industry has increased manifold due to international reasons. He said that compared to 2018, the price of gas has increased by 286 percent and the price of electricity has increased by about 21 and a half percent. In total, the cost of production has increased by 40 percent in the last 5 years. Consumer spending has also increased as developed countries have raised interest rates on bank loans.
‘Attack without reason’
Inamul Haque Khan Babul, managing director of Anant Companies and director of BGMEA, said, “70-80 people attacked, vandalized and set fire to our factory. Some of them were juveniles. They were divided into three groups without any reason. Divide and riot.”
He said, “One group went to the cutting section and set fire to the cloth, another group vandalized and snatched the company’s tablets, laptops and mobile phones of the officials, while the third group beat up the company officials.”