- Factories could not pay wages on time on the "excuse" of various Covid-induced crises, such as cancellation of purchase orders, non-receipt of work orders, shortage of capital, and a lack of loans and funds from stimulus packages
- The report said the BGMEA, BKMEA, the government, and labour organisations should ensure that the workers get the salary, bonus, and other allowances properly and on time to avoid unrests
- Joly Talukder, general secretary of the Garments Workers Trade Union Centre, said there were already movements going on at some factories
The home ministry fears unrest in 159 readymade garments (RMG) factories in Dhaka and elsewhere, which employ over one lakh workers but do not clear workers' wages on time.
On 26 October, the home ministry sent a copy of the report containing the list of these factories to the commerce ministry.
According to the report, the factories could not pay wages on time on the "excuse" of various Covid-induced crises such as cancellation of purchase orders, non-receipt of work orders, shortage of capital, and a lack of loans and funds from stimulus packages.
Some of the factory owners questioned the accuracy of the report, with many saying that they do not have salary arrears while others deny any possibility of labour unrest in their units.
But the list reveals some real problems too.
Demanding arrears, the workers of Style Craft factory in Gazipur have been agitating in front of Shram Bhaban in the capital's Bijoynagar for the last five days. Despite repeated meetings of the labour ministry with the employers, there is still no headway about the payment of the dues.
According to the Industrial Police, the factory has 3,200 workers.
The agitating workers said they have arrears in wages for four to nine months.
"Our total due is over Tk70 crore. But the factory owner now wants to pay just Tk2.5 crore, which is unrealistic," factory worker Afrin told The Business Standard. "We will stay here until the arrears are realised."
Labour leaders have threatened to launch a movement for arrears at two Opex Group garment units at Narayanganj and Mirpur.
According to the list, Nurunnahar Knit Apparels at Pallabi has not yet paid workers' wages for September.
But owner Mosharif Hossain has claimed that some of the workers were paid for September.
He said his factory plunged into the problem after orders to the tune of $7 lakh were cancelled during the second wave of Covid-19 in May.
Mohammad Hatem, executive president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), questioned the accuracy of the list.
Referring to Mintex Apparel and Alpine Knit Fabrics, he said the two factories were closed down a year ago under the impact of the pandemic.
"However, according to the list, the wages of the factories have been cleared till last August," he added.
Mohammad Hatem said the names of factories that pay salaries and allowances on a regular basis have also been added to the list by the Industrial Police.
"This kind of problem would not have happened if they had crosschecked with us while preparing the list," he added.
The ministry's report was based on data from 4,347 factories in Dhaka, Savar, Gazipur, Narayanganj, Chattogram and Mymensingh.
According to the Labour Act, wages have to be paid within seven working days of every next month.
The report said the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association, BKMEA, the government, and labour organisations should ensure that the workers get salaries, bonuses and other allowances properly and on time.
"If a garment owner shuts down a factory or lays off workers, it is important to make sure that the appropriate process is announced in advance," it added.
Md Shamsul Alam, joint inspector general of the Directorate of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), told TBS that the directorate had not received the home ministry report containing the list till Saturday.
"When we get the list, we will collect the information and monitor the factories that actually have problems," he said, adding, "But the list given by the Industrial Police is not completely correct. We've been observing this for the last few years."
Shafiqul Islam, additional inspector general of Industrial Police, told TBS, "We are trying to put pressure on many factory owners and many workers are getting their dues."
He claimed that the lists prepared by the Industrial Police are always updated.
Speaking to TBS, Joly Talukder, general secretary of the Garments Workers Trade Union Centre, said there were already movements going on at some factories.
She said some owners move their factories to other places, or move money to other businesses.
"Again, some people cannot pay the workers properly due to a siphoning off of money abroad," Joly Talukder alleged
She questioned why the factories were not able to pay workers even in the current season of large orders from foreign buyers. ***