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Equation of BD's RMG prosperity and labour welfare

Abrar Hossain Sayem | November 26, 2023 00:00:00

RMG workers in a factory: The RMG sector is the heart of Bangladesh’s economy. —FE Photo

In the dynamic landscape of Bangladesh's economy, the ready-made garment (RMG) industry has long been the driver of growth and opportunity. A beacon of progress, it has consistently fortified the country's export earnings, highlighted by a recent surge to US$11.62 billion in Q1 of the current fiscal year (FY) 2023-24, even amidst global economic turbulence. This 13-percent growth year on year stands as a testament to the sector's pivotal role in anchoring the economic wellbeing of Bangladesh and its citizens.

Wherein lies the secret of this success? It's a combination of factors, with a nudge towards strategic investments in spinning and textile mills. As the world, nowadays, faces a contraction in textile imports, Bangladesh's apparel sector has not just weathered the storm but has flourished as well. The country's main export industry has shown agility and foresight in moving beyond dependence on imports by bolstering its backward linkages. By strengthening the foundations of its textile mills, Bangladesh has fortified its position on the global stage. Also, the diversification of products, the investments in RMG and textile machinery and investment in compliance standards over the years have prompted this success of economic, social, and employment contribution.

This narrative is more than just about numbers--it's about livelihoods, national pride, and economic stability. The RMG sector is not merely an industry; it's the engine driving Bangladesh's economy, a safeguard against the perils of economic downturns, and a beacon of opportunity for millions.

Now, as Bangladesh navigates economic headwinds, the importance of the RMG industry cannot be overstated. However, the lifeblood of this industry, the garment workers, faces the harsh reality of high inflation, which relentlessly erodes the purchasing power of their wages. The deliberation over wage increments is not just a monetary debate but a reflection of the country's commitment to equity and sustainability. While the proposed minimum wage increase to Tk 12,480 is a move towards ensuring a livable wage for workers, it must be tempered with the understanding that the RMG industry operates within a delicate balance of cost and competitiveness.

As Bangladesh grapples with inflation, it is crucial that wage adjustments do not overshadow the economic intricacies at play. A drastic wage hike, as some propose, risks disrupting the intricate balance of pricing, demand, and competitive advantage. It's a quintessential case of striking a balance between improving living standards for workers and maintaining the fiscal health of an industry that employs millions and is the cornerstone of the country's economic narrative.

The apparel sector's importance extends far beyond the factory walls-it is intrinsically linked to national prosperity. The potential impact of significant wage increases on the overall health of the industry can be profound. If the cost of manufacturing becomes disproportionate to earnings, the risk is two-fold: factories may shut down, leading to job losses, and the nation may lose its competitive edge on the global stage, leading to decreased exports and foreign earnings.

The crux of the issue is to advocate for incremental, sustainable wage adjustments that recognize the essential role of garment workers while preserving the sector's viability. The responsibility also falls on the government to implement policies that curb inflation and support industries with sufficient resources, like gas and electricity, to sustain business.

In essence, the narrative of the RMG industry and wage dynamics should not be a zero-sum game. The aim is to enhance the standard of living without compromising the very industry that provides sustenance. A collective push towards improvement is necessary but should remain within the realms of economic prudence.

The sector is not only the backbone of Bangladesh's economy but also a lifeline for millions. The industry's strength is a shared interest, underpinning the nation's economic future. In our earnest pursuit for equitable wage increments, let us remember that the continuity and expansion of the RMG sector are imperative for the prosperity of Bangladesh as a whole.

While we champion the cause of the workers and their rightful share, we must also safeguard the source of this prosperity. The RMG sector is more than an industry-- it is the heart of Bangladesh economy, and it must be nurtured with wisdom and foresight.

The writer is the President of Bangladesh Apparel Youth Leader's Association and CEO of Merchant Bay Limited.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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