Research Title: Worker rights to form a union and for better safety and working conditions in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector of Bangladesh.
Table of Contents
2.0 Research background.
3.0 Research rationale.
4.0 Aim and objectives.
5.0 Research question.
5.1 Key question.
The dependence on the Bangladesh garment industry has been growing dramatically from only 48 garments factories in 1983 (Statistical Year Book of Bangladesh, 2008) to over 5000 garments factories now (BGEMA, 2016). More than four million people are now working in this industry, where over 80% of workers are women. However, violation of employee rights, tremendous work pressure, wage penalties, various types of health hazard and oppression are common phenomena. This study explores and analyses the labour rights to form a union and for better safety and working condition in the ready-made garment industry of Bangladesh.
2.0 Research background
Bangladesh is the second-largest apparels (ready-made garments products) manufacturer after China. The readymade garment (RMG) industry is the backbone of Bangladesh’s economy and the main driver of its GDP growth. Over the last fifteen years, the growth of the sector has been spectacular. Currently, there are more than 5,000 garment manufacturing firms operating in Bangladesh. The country’s RMG sector has provided employment to more than 4 million people. Over 80% of them are women, who were previously outside the wage economy (BGMEA, 2016). At present, RMG is the main foreign exchange earning sector, accounting for more than 80% of the country’s exports. The share of the RMG sector increased dramatically from 3.89% of total exports in the fiscal year 1983/84 to about 81.13% in the fiscal year 2010-111 (Ministry of Commerce, 2015).
However, tremendous work pressure, wage penalties, various types of health hazard and oppression are common for women workers in the RMG factories (Ahmed, 2015). The wage of an unskilled male labourer in rural areas is higher than the wage earned by an unskilled male labourer in the garment industry (Rahman, 2014). In addition, for a female worker, the wage rate in the garment industry is higher than any other available employment. Despite exploitative working conditions, as well as structural and personal violence, most authors highlight ambivalences in women workers’ situation in the RMG industry. While women workers are reluctant to join union federations because of their male-dominated hierarchies and their closeness to political power, women workers organized spontaneous protests e.g. against non-payment of overtime. Since 1994 some of them are organized in the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union (BIGUF). This informal union goes beyond a narrow conventional trade unionist approach, addresses the everyday needs of women and promotes female leadership (Dannecker, 2012). Therefore, it has been a significant issue to study the above discussed challenges faced by the workers of Bangladesh ready-made garment industry.
3.0 Research rationale
Freedom of association and collective bargaining is very limited in the RMG sector of Bangladesh. Rahman and Langford (2012) have described under military rule, significant inter-union rivalry, corruption and nepotism due to strong links with the political parties became permanent features of labour politics. In this context, the employers of the mushrooming RMG sector were vigilant against the forming of any labour organization, on the excuse that politicized and corrupted labour unionism would bring production to a halt for any reason. Union formation is also undercut through various deceitful strategies such as the short-term increase of wages, bonuses or overtime rates; union leaders are bought off through bribes or promotion (Morshed, 2014). The lack of outside support, along with internal divisions and weaknesses, is an additional factor behind the failure of union formation in the Bangladeshi RMG sector. Some union leaders are less educated, coming directly from the factory floor, while others have higher degrees but lack working-class experience. Therefore, till now, there were no significant links between the garment workers and civil society, historically represented by the urban, educated middle-class, which dominated broad political movements (Rahman and Langford, 2012).