Workers in Bangladesh’s export industries are paid the world’s lowest wages. Productivity remains very low due mainly to poor management by the manufacturers and inadequate marketing skills.
Bangladeshi workers in factories involved in leather processing, shoe making, jute yarn manufacturing, shrimp processing and production of medicines receive the world’s lowest wages.
The average monthly wages of Bangladeshi garment factory workers is even less than one-third of the global average, in spite of the fact that the high-quality stitching by Bangladesh’s female workers pleases overseas buyers.
A recent global survey of the world’s garment industries by the US-based consulting house, the Jassin-O’Rourke Group, shows that a Bangladeshi garment worker gets only 22 US cents per hour.
A garment worker receives 33 cents in Cambodia, 38 cents in Vietnam, 37 cents in Pakistan, 43 cents in Sri Lanka, 44 cents in Indonesia, 51 cents in India, 86 cents in China, $1.07 in the Philippines and $1.18 in Malaysia
‘On average the garment factory workers’ wages in Bangladesh are extremely low,’ acknowledged a senior executive of a US-based buying house stationed in Dhaka.
He, however, pointed out that if productivity is considered, Bangladesh lags behind as productivity here is only 42 per cent compared to more than 70 per cent in China and around 60 per cent in India.
Another top female executive of a Europe-based major retailer said that Bangladesh’s female garment workers, in spite of being the among the best in stitching in the world, don’t receive even living wages.
‘I found very few instances in other countries where workers are so devoted to their stitching or are so prompt to learn quickly,’ said the executive who is in charge monitoring compliance in Bangladeshi factories that supply the global retailers.
‘Productivity is not only the worker’s responsibility; it depends on uninterrupted and well-managed production flows which are designed and implemented by the managers and entrepreneurs,’ said a top official of another Europe-based buying house.
Pointing out that frequent shifting of underpaid or irregularly paid workers to other garment factories giving somewhat higher wages lowers productivity, he said. ‘If the workers are kept satisfied, production will increase.’
Jassin-O’Rourke’s study quoted Dhaka’s labour leaders as complaining that the Bangladeshi workers were being deprived, while factory owners claimed they could not make much profit because of low payments from the importers.
‘Tales of miserable wages for Bangladeshi garment workers are not new,’ said the Combined Garment Worker Forum’s president, Najma Akter.
She regretted that the manufacturers always give the excuse that they get very low prices from buyers to justify the low wages they pay the workers.
The shrimp processing sector in Bangladesh also pays very low wages, but the entrepreneurs say that they get very low prices as for years they have failed to ensure the buyers’ required safety standards.
The local shrimp processing units pay much lower wages than those in India, Vietnam, China and other competing countries, and moreover use child workers, which is against the law.
A senior official at the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority said that in 2008 dozens of Chinese and Taiwanese shoemakers struck deals with the BEPZA to relocate and set up factories in Bangladesh
‘Almost every shoemaker found that Bangladesh is most lucrative due to the very low wages paid here,’ he said. ‘The average wage is about one-third of that in China.’
Monir Hossain, a leader of the combined forum of private sector jute mills, told New Age that the minimum wage for even a Nepalese jute industry worker was set at Rs 4,600 last December.
‘In Bangladeshi jute mills the average monthly wage will definitely not go above Tk 4,500,’ he said, regretting that despite such low wages, bank loans to jute mill owners worth hundreds of crores of takas have become bad loans.
Abdul Muktadir, managing director of Incepta, a leading medicine manufacturing and exporting company, told New Age recently that in addition to low wages paid to the workers, the salaries of the pharmacists in Bangladesh are the lowest in the world.
Such low wages make Bangladesh a potential manufacturing destination for producers of cheap medicines while the local producers are crying for government support to boost exports.
Source: The Daily New Age, 18 April 2009