By: M Abul Kalam Azad
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday asked the state minister for labour and employment to take action immediately to quell the ongoing labour unrest for a pay hike in Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital.
There is no trade union in the garment sector so it is very difficult to find someone who can represent the agitating garment workers in discussions to resolve the issues, the PM observed at the weekly cabinet meeting.
All the RMG units have been closed following violent clashes between workers and law-enforcers.
“We need to find out whether there is any international conspiracy behind the labour unrest,” Hasina told her cabinet colleagues, adding that the unrest leading to the shutdown of RMGs would have an adverse impact on the country’s economy.
She also directed the officials concerned to supply ready-made garment workers with rice at a low price.
Fair price cards will be issued to garment workers, allowing them to buy 20 kilograms of rice at Tk 24 per kg in a month from government-appointed dealers, food ministry officials said.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Food and Disaster Management Minister Abdur Razzaque said the fair price cards would first be distributed among nearly five lakh workers of garment factories in Ashulia.
Later, the cards will be distributed among garment workers in other areas, said Razzaque.
However, a similar move proved to be futile two years back, apparently for factory owners’ indifference to it.
The government and garment owners in 2009 agreed to introduce food rationing for workers. Estimating that around 25 lakh RMG workers would come under the programme, the government then put aside five lakh tonnes of rice to ensure rations on a regular basis.
Only a few owners complied with the deal and that too for a couple of months, food ministry officials said.
As per the agreement, owners of garment factories were supposed to distribute rice initially among 6.5 lakh workers at Tk 16 per kg. After the inauguration of the programme on August 27 that year, owners withdrew only 200 tonnes of rice which was distributed among 5,000 workers [20 kilogram each per month] for only two months.
Again in 2010, the government introduced fair price cards for low income people, but this time RMG workers were not included in the programme. So far, 70 lakh cards have been distributed among low income groups in Dhaka and some other districts.