Around 75,000 workers at different factories of the Pran-RFL group are provided quality meals at subsidised prices on factory premises.
Sodesh Sorkar works at the Pran Agro Factory in Natore Sadar. It takes only 20 minutes to go home from his workplace which he doesn't have to do, nor does he need to take lunch to work, or buy food from any hotel every day, as he can buy his lunch at the factory for Tk5 only.
Sodesh has been working at the factory for the last eight years and getting this benefit from the very beginning.
The Pran Group started business in 1981, and the number of workers increased day by day with the expansion of its various businesses.
According to company sources, the Pran RFL Group currently has 125,000 workers and employees at its factories. Of them, 75,000 workers working directly at the factory are provided this subsidised food benefit.
Apart from factory workers, other employees of the group are also provided a subsidised meal benefit, but depending on income, they pay anywhere from Tk8 to Tk25 per meal.
Sodesh Sorkar told The Business Standard (TBS), "We would have to spend Tk100 at outside hotels for the meals we get for Tk5 only. On the other hand, bringing cooked food from home in the morning is troublesome and maintaining the quality is difficult also."
For Sodesh Sorkar, who has a salary of Tk8,500, the opportunity to have a full meal for Tk5 is a blessing. He said food from home can often spoil by lunchtime. "But I am getting hot food at the factory," he said.
Sumona, a worker at another Pran factory in Ghorashal of Narsingdi, said, "I had a lot of tension about bringing food from home when I first joined the job. I was worried that I would have to make lunch just after getting out of bed in the morning. Moreover, the food would often spoil by lunchtime in the afternoon. But the food being served here is better than my food at home."
This correspondent was talking to her last Sunday, after her night shift on Saturday. Workers on night shifts also get subsidised meals.
Talking to workers, TBS learned that factory meals during the work week include two days of fish, two days of meat, and two days of eggs, besides vegetables and pulses or daal every day. Sometimes there are special meals on festive occasions as well.
According to the factory authorities, the company has been providing subsidised meals to workers since 2010. Currently the organisation spends around Tk5 crore a month on subsidising their meal program. The annual subsidy spending of the company is currently around Tk60 crore.
However, Pran-RFL Group Director (marketing) Kamruzzaman Kamal could not provide any specific information about their expenditure in subsidising meals for employees over the last 10 years.
He said that in the beginning the number of workers was not as high as it is now and the subsidy was also small.
Asked about the reason for spending so much money to provide subsidised food to workers, he said, "The health of our workers is very important to us. They may get sick, if they eat outside. If they are healthy, absenteeism will be less with workers claiming less sick leave, and eating outside also takes up more time. This is why this initiative was taken."
Cooking food for workers and maintaining its quality is a huge task for us. There are many other organisations in Bangladesh that provide such benefits to workers, but there is probably no one else who organises it on such a large scale," he added.
He also said that as a result of the initiative, they are seeing a positive effect on their overall productivity.
Some in the garments industry of the country and some factories in other sectors are also providing similar meal benefits to workers.