RMG workers struggle to survive rising commodity prices
Rahima, an assistant cutter at Russel Garments in Narayanganj, used to buy cheap fish and sometimes broiler chicken, especially for her children. But she can no longer afford fish and chicken with her monthly salary of Tk 9,000.
She had to make do with eggs although the price of four eggs exceeded Tk 50.
Rahima is one of many low-income textile workers trying to survive by cutting costs as raw material prices continue to soar.
“I bought three eggs on Tuesday. Previously I used to buy broiler chicken for 120 Tk which is now 200 Tk and I can’t afford it. To make matters worse, I heard that my landlord will raise the rent on the house,” Rahima said.
“I used to send money to my parents in the village. It’s been four months, I haven’t been able to send any,” she added.
Five other garment workers, living in and around Dhaka, spoke of similar struggles to cope with rising prices. They, too, are being forced to reduce their protein expenditures and the amount they send home.
A number of large garment factories in the country have opened fair-price stores under various names, which are still in operation, with the aim of supplying goods to workers at a price slightly below market price. However, due to soaring commodity prices, prices in these stores have also increased. In fact, operating costs to run stores have increased by 10-15% due to rising fuel prices.
These workers said they did not receive family cards to purchase government subsidized products.
Commodity prices have risen in recent months, naturally pushing inflation higher. According to the latest estimates from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), Bangladesh is experiencing the highest inflation in the past eight years.
Earlier this month, the government raised fuel oil prices by 51%, the highest on record. As a result, the prices of almost every product have skyrocketed beyond the reach of not only garment workers, but all low-wage categories.
According to data released by the government agency Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) last Thursday (August 17), the price of rice increased by about 12%, flour by 75%, lentil (moshur) by 41%, 53% dal (Ankor), 41% soybean oil, 56% chicken (broiler) and 54% eggs.
Sharif, an employee of SF Washing Ltd in the Kanchpur region, said he had not bought chicken for the past three to four months. Now he has no choice but to settle for poor quality tilapia and pangas fish.
“We really need our salary to go up right now,” he said.
Union leaders also demanded an increase in workers’ wages. Last March, workers took to the streets of the capital to demand a pay rise.
Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, believes workers’ wages should be increased to help them survive in the current reality.
“Garment workers’ salary increases by 5% of base salary per year. But commodity prices are increasing at a much higher rate than that. In this situation, apart from the salary increase, they should benefit from dearness allowance and rationing (supply of subsidized goods),” she said, adding, “They can go back to the streets like in Mirpur if their backs are against the wall.”
RMG owners, however, are unwilling to raise wages even though they accept the fact that rising commodity prices have increased pressure on workers. Although the price of imported goods has increased due to the appreciation of the dollar, exporters earn Tk 10 or more per dollar (on actual retention excluding other costs including import of raw materials).
Mohammad Hatem, Executive Chairman of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) said we could get Tk 10 more due to increase in dollar value but we have to spend Tk 15 on due to the increase in the price of fuel oil, the price of electricity and gas, 5% increment, etc.
“As a result, it is not possible to grant new wages or a dearness allowance at this time. He said, not just garment workers, everyone is under pressure,” he said .
Shahidullah Azim, acting president of BGMEA, told The Business Standard that currently order volume is 20-30% below capacity at almost all factories.
“On the other hand, production costs have risen by about 8% in the last four to five months. So now is not the right time to increase wages. Also, according to the rules, the council salary is supposed to be formed next year,” he said.
He said some factories are now paying workers’ wages by taking out loans.
Pointing out that exporters do not get additional financial benefits due to the increase in the price of the dollar, he said, the profit from the dollar goes mainly to the bank, not to the exporters.
No progress in implementing worker rationing:
Although workers’ demands to provide basic necessities at subsidized prices have been strong in recent years, neither the government nor the owners have taken the initiative. On March 15 this year, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) urged the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) to organize 40 trucks to sell subsidized goods in areas where most industries are located. of the garment. But, BGMEA sources said no progress had been made yet.
Mohammad Hatem said they would write again to ask for the same.
Tawhidur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Workers Federation, told The Business Standard that rationing must be made accessible to workers in areas dominated by the garment industry.
Prices have also increased in Fair Price Shops:
According to the calculation of commodity prices by the Fair price store of the Urmi group, which is an initiative for some 14,000 workers, the price of soybean oil has increased by 17%, flour by 25%, salt by 31%, lentils by 21% and coarse rice by 12% in the last five months. However, the store sells these products at a lower price than the market price.
DBL Group, Fakir Fashion, Mohammadi Group, Ananta Group, Epyllion Group, Cute Dress, SQ Celsius and Northern Apparel have also opened fair price stores for their workers. Outside the industry, Square Group, Meghna Group and Akij Group are said to have such activities.
MA Rahim Feroz, Vice Chairman of DBL Group, told The Business Standard: “We sell at the price at which we buy. We do not make any profit. But recently, our operating costs have increased by about 15% due to increased expenses.
He stressed that such initiatives should start in all factories and urged the government to come forward in this regard.