The government has rejected the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association’s plea for a Tk 50 crore loan from the Central Fund operated by the labour ministry to pay workers’ wages for March amid unrests for pay.
The labour ministry sent a letter to association president Rubana Huq on April 16, saying that the Bangladesh Labour Rules 2015 allowed no loan from the Central Fund to pay wages to workers of factories in operation.
‘The rules allow the central fund management board to pay dues to workers of only factories destroyed by a natural or manmade disaster or if the owners become bankrupt,’ Central Fund director general AMS Anisul Awal told New Age on Sunday.
‘The proposal for paying wages of workers of such a factory should be placed following an investigation by a committee comprising representatives of the owner of the factory, labour unions, owners’ association and the government,’ he said.
He said that the Central Fund was created following the promulgation of the labour rules in 2015 with 0.03 per cent contributions against each letter of credit or telegraphic transfer from the export-oriented factories and its deposit stood at over Tk 100 crore in 2020.
BGMEA vice-president Faisal Samad said that the association sought the loan from the fund created with the contributions of the exporters to pay due wages to the workers of factories that were facing financial problems for coronavirus pandemic in most of the countries including Bangladesh.
‘It was created from exporters’ contributions for the welfare of their workers. It should be used for paying wages of workers of the factories those are struggling for the coronavirus outbreak,’ he said.
He claimed that over 91 per cent of the RMG workers had been paid wages for March.
Samad said that the BGMEA centrally wanted to pay wages of the workers, who still remained unpaid, from the loan to tame the workers’ agitation that might spill over into the other workers.
‘Our president is negotiating with the government,’ he said.
Labour leaders, however, demanded that the BGMEA, the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association and other businesses pay workers due wages immediately and also stop terminating workers or lay-off of factories during the holidays declared by the government to combat the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
‘As the businesses made profits taking services of the workers, why aren’t they paying them salaries during the coronavirus crisis? Instead, many factory owners are preparing lists for terminating workers or declaring lay-off unlawfully and inhumanely,’ said Rajekuzzaman Ratan, a tripartite consultation committee member.
‘Such actions might create massive worker unrests,’ said Ratan, also Samajtantrik Sramik Front general secretary, adding that workers of 250 factories had already started demonstrations for salaries.
Fazlul Haque Montu, Jatiya Sramik League president and also a central fund board member, said that the other types of export-oriented factories would also demand the benefit if the BGMEA was allowed to take loan from the fund.
‘They should take loan from Tk 5,000 crore offered by the prime minister as stimulus package to fight against the coronavirus pandemic fallout. They should also demand incentive packages form the buyers, who made profits capitalising on the cheap labour in Bangladesh,’ Montu said.
BGMEA vice-president Samad said that the association had already started initiatives for taking soft loans as offered by the government for paying wages of the workers for the next three months.