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News of the week: No national minimum wage aids exploitation

Employees and workers in many sectors of the economy are deprived of due wages and benefits in the absence of a national minimum wage.

Many employers are exploiting employees and workers as successive governments have failed to introduce a national minimum wage in the labour-surplus country, said economists and rights activists.

Since 2004, the Minimum Wages Board under the Ministry of Labour and Employment has identified 42 sectors and brought them under a minimum wage rule.

But workers and employees continue to be appointed in many private establishments like schools and colleges and business entities at very low wages in the absence of a national minimum wage.

Besides, household workers and agricultural labourers are facing discrimination in getting decent wages for the same reason.

Dhaka University economics department chair MM Akash said that a national minimum wage always played an important role in ensuring decent wages and curbing exploitation by the employer.

The presence of a minimum national wage exists in most countries, including South Asian nations, he said.

‘But there has been no visible progress on this important issue in our country,’ he said.

State Minister for Planning Dr Shamsul Alam on Monday told New Age that the labour and employment ministry had been assigned to work on the issue.

A minimum national wage is essential for the welfare of the employees and workers, he observed.

The Minimum Wages Board, its officials said, is aware of problems of workers in various sectors while it has taken an initiative to introduce minimum wages to seven more sectors.

A step has also been taken to formulate a policy on a national minimum wage, said Minimum Wages Board chair Dr Selina Akter.

Meanwhile, a meeting was held on the much-talked-about policy on a national minimum wage in the past month.

‘Many more meetings will be needed to receive opinions from the stakeholders,’ added Selina.

Amid a high inflation for the past six months after the prolonged Covid pandemic and on the hill of the Russia-Ukraine war, sufferings of a huge number of employees and workers in many sectors have mounted.

Teachers at private sector kindergarten and secondary schools and even colleges have been among the worst victims of the unwanted situation as no standard criteria are followed to appoint them.

Bangladesh Kindergarten Owners’ Association secretary general MH Badal on September 22 said that the monthly salary of a kindergarten school teacher ranged between Tk 3,000 and Tk 30,000.

But only a handful of teachers receive salary in the upper segment of the range, he said, adding that most of the teachers receive Tk 3,000 to Tk 5,000 per month.

‘The amount is very poor for a profession like teaching,’ he observed.

Many private secondary schools and universities even pay teachers Tk 10,000 a month and force them to resort to private tuition and other part-time jobs to augment their earnings.

According to Ain o Salish Kendra, women and children are engaged in various household works, including child care, in both rural and urban areas.

The current number of domestic workers, aged between six and 22 years, is estimated by the rights group to be about 4,22,000 in the country.

Domestic workers not only do not get decent wages but also face various abuses, including scolding, beating and sexual harassment, said the rights group.

The number of workers in the country is about six crore and 85 per cent of them belong to the informal sector, according to the ASK.

The agriculture sector accounts for some 40 per cent of the country’s workforce, according to the 8th Five-Year Plan.

According to Centre for Policy Dialogue research director Khondaker Golam Moazzem, many agricultural workers remain without work for about four months a year as the sector in many regions has little work to offer in those months.

Ensuring decent wages for all is a crucial requirement for the country to attain the UN-backed Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, he reminded.

The exploitation of workers in the absence of a minimum national wage is going unabated and is even on the rise in many sectors, said veteran labour leader and Bangladesh Trade Union Centre president Shahidullah Chowdhury.

On September 17, the Sramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad, a combine of labour rights bodies, demanded that Tk 20,000 be declared national minimum wage for the workers and a permanent wage board be established.

Shahidullah Chowdhury said that a national minimum had been announced once in 1969 in the era of Pakistan.

The wage was fixed at Tk 125 by the then government and was implemented properly, added Shahidullah.

But that national minimum wage lost its relevance when all the mills and factories in Bangladesh were nationalised after 1972, he noted.

However, the private sector-led industrialisation, especially in the readymade garments sector and the pharmaceutical industry, since the 1990s has brought forth the need for a minimum national wage again.

In 2001, the government announced a monthly national minimum wage for small and medium industries at Tk 1,200 and Tk 1,350 for major industries.

However, the announcement was not translated into action due to the opposition from industry owners.

Besides, the High Court stayed the government decision on the grounds of procedural deficiencies to determine a national minimum wage following a writ challenging the validity of the national minimum wage.

In 2004, the government formed the Minimum Wages Board to determine minimum wages for various sectors. So far, 42 sectors have been identified for the introduction of minimum wages.

The sectors include printing press sector, homeopath industry, salt crushing industry, construction and wood, cold storage, privately owned industrial sector, privately owned jute mills, rubber industry, readymade garment industry, cinemas and match industry.

However, the Minimum Wages Board has failed to update wages for many sectors in every five years, as mandated, said Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies director for research and development Nazma Yesmin.

Besides, the monitoring system for implementing the minimum wages set by the board is very weak, added the director.

Low wage and associated deprivations, according to economists and rights activists, force many household heads to send their children to work instead of school for supporting their families.

The International Labour Organisation, referring to the 2015 National Child Labour Survey, said that Bangladesh had made progresses in the fight against child labour, but some 12 lakh children were still trapped in the worst forms of labour.

See original article: New Age; September 28, 2022