The ‘Made in Bangladesh’ brand in the readymade garments sector is largely the contribution of its millions of workers. A large market of other commodities and services has grown in the country to cater to the demands of the RMG workers. But the country has yet to develop a robust system to ensure the much-needed welfare of the RMG workers even after four decades since the establishment of the industry in the early 1980s. A large section of these workers work for meagre wages due to lack of skills. Many women leave jobs to take care of their newborns in absence of daycare centres, while many pregnant workers leave jobs due to lack of proper care. The country’s RMG sector will secure more sustaining growth once we can ensure basic services, skills training and opportunities and services for the workers.
Currently, the RMG sector contributes 16% to the GDP of Bangladesh, which constituted 83% of the country’s total export earnings in 2021. Bangladesh, second among the world’s readymade wear exporting countries, engages nearly 4.4 million people, 60% of whom are women. At present, this industry brings over 32 billion dollars every year.
These observations and information were shared at an event titled ‘National consultation on the wellbeing of RMG workers’ organised at the BRAC Centre in the capital today (Thursday, 25 August). BRAC, the one of the world’s largest development organisations, hosted the programme with Bangladesh’s commerce minister and lawmaker Tipu Munshi in chair. Special guests at the event were labour and employment secretary Ehsan-E-Elahi, director-general of Health Economics Unit under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Dr Md Enamul Haque, and BGMEA vice president Md Shahidullah Azim. Professor of the Institute of Health Economics at the University of Dhaka Dr Syed Abdul Hamid and Centre for Policy Dialogue research director Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem were present at the discussion panel. Sk Mojibul Huq, programme manager, BRAC Urban Development Programme, presented BRAC’s one-stop service centre model. The event was moderated by the director of BRAC Urban Development Programme and BRAC and BRAC International Climate Change Programme Dr Md Liakath Ali.
The findings of a survey on the effectiveness of the services rendered by the one-stop service centre model were also presented. BRAC and research organisation Lightcastle Partners conducted the study. Lightcastle Partners director Jahedul Amin presented the findings.
Tipu Munshi, minister, Ministry of Commerce, said, “The government has taken various initiatives to ensure the workers’ salary, quality of life and basic services. The prime minister has been giving her full support in this regard. BRAC has set the example of a quality service. This model will ensure the welfare of workers.”
Md. Ehsan-E-Elahi, secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment, said, “We have two funds - a central fund which is solely dedicated for RMG workers, another one is Shramajibi Kallyan Foundation. With these two funds, I have been mitigating payments to thousands of workers with one-off payment for healthcare, in case of injuries or death, and also for their children's education. We will consider implementing this model of BRAC if they share it with our ministry.”
Dr Syed Abdul Hamid, professor, Institute of Health Economics, University of Dhaka, said, “BRAC has created a 360 degree-model. However, the government’s action is needed here.”
Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director, CPD, said, “There were many projects that never saw the light of day. With the help of the government, NGOs can come forward and implement such an initiative.”
Md Shahidullah Azim, vice president, BGMEA, said, “To keep up with the new world, we have increased the use of advanced machinery. As a result, we do not require as much manpower as we did in the past. Thus the number of women in the work force is decreasing.”
Md Liakath Ali, director, Climate Change Programme, BRAC and BRAC International, said, “This initiative of ours was small, it will end this year. By doing the pilot programme, we were able to show that this model works.”
The presentation on the research findings informed the audience that BRAC UDP is implementing a 5-year pilot titled “Empowering the RMG workers living in urban slums of Dhaka” (2017-22). Under this project three one-stop service centres have been established in Tongi, Gazipur and Savar, following an innovative OSCC model of BRAC to give coordinated services to garment factory workers. So far, 60,000 people of low-income families have received services including quality healthcare, legal aid, skills training, daycare service for children, financial inclusion services of deposit pension scheme and micro health insurance, and citizen rights awareness. According to the findings, the ERMG project also helped promote work-friendly environment in these areas through connecting the factory owners and workers.