Annisul Huq believes the Bangladesh garment wage issue has been exaggerated

Annisul Huq believes the Bangladesh garment wage issue has been exaggerated

Representatives from the Bangladeshi apparel industry say media reports of recent worker unrest over wages are "exaggerated" - and that protests have only taken place in a few factories, out of around 2,500 garment plants in the country.

"The wage protests were only in two or three factories. It is not a general industry problem. Not even ten factories had a problem," claims Mr Annisul Huq, chairman of the Mohamadi Group of companies, one of the largest apparel manufacturing groups in Bangladesh.

"The whole wage issue has been exaggerated by the media," he told just-style during a South Asian regional trade conference in Nepal.

Mr Huq is also a former president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

The Bangladeshi garment industry is estimated to employ around 2.5m people directly in garment factory jobs, with another 1.5m or so in backward linkages.

"In Bangladesh, a single factory employs thousands of workers. So even if workers in one factory protest, this could mean thousands of workers taking to the streets. But it is still only one factory, not an industry-wide condition," says Mr Huq.

Mr Anisul Islam Mahmud, the owner of Shasha Denims and a Member of Parliament in Bangladesh, adds: "A majority of factories paid workers the increased wage. The few incidents were due to some misunderstandings."

Factories say a majority of workers earn above even the new increased minimum wage.

"About 90% of our workers get more than the minimum wage anyway. The minimum wage is now around US$45. But workers earn US$55 to US$60 per month with overtime and incentives. Sweater makers can earn about US$150 to US$200 per month," says Mr Huq.

Government intervention
A new government-backed pay deal agreed for the Bangladesh garment industry came into force in November, with the minimum wage rising by over 70% to BDT3,000 (US$45) from around BDT1,600 previously. However, thousands of workers took to the streets claiming they did not get the wage increase.

Factories say the cause of the unrest included the removal of non-mandatory incentive payments by some factories after the wage increase, and wage differences among different categories of workers. Delays and confusion on Eid festival bonus payments added to the problem.

But Bangladeshi government officials say the new wages are being enforced.

"The government is now implementing the wage increase through a tripartite committee with industry, government and worker representation," according to Professor Gowher Rizvi, an adviser to the government.

"Wage unrests were reported only from a very small number of factories."

The Bangladeshi government is also targeting working conditions and workers' rights.

"In the last few years child labour in garment factories has been reduced drastically," says Professor Rizvi. "The government is also very serious about improving safety standards and overall working conditions. We are also strictly enforcing environmental regulations against pollution and for waste water treatment."

The government of Bangladesh is also promoting collective bargaining mechanisms, although garment factory owners "do not encourage" trade union formation.

According to factory owners, despite millions of workers in thousands of factories in the garment sector, "not even 20 factories have trade unions."