The contribution of female garment workers in our country is still unparallel. They are the majority in the labour force and play the major role to earn billions of dollar every year for the country. But they are the victims of wage discrimination and deprived of the basic facilities by all concerned including the employers. Not only this, they suffer due to the ill-equipped office environment.
An example of the latest suffering is the fire incident at KTS garment in which at least 97 persons were burnt to death and most of the victims were female.
According to different statistics available in the offices of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) and Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) the numbers of female workers in the RMG sector is more than 80 per cent of its total workforce.
RMG products fetch billions of dollar every year with the hard works of our female workers, but they are still very low paid. They even are receiving lower salary than their male counterparts which shows an unkind discrimination in the payment system between male and female workers. It is found that the owners and officials of the factories do not duly recognise the contribution of female workers and allegedly pay the salary first to male workers at the beginning of the month and to female workers at its end. There is also allegation that women workers often remain unpaid for several months and for small flaws they face deductions from their salary.
It was reported in various national dailies that in the latest fire incident, many female workers had to give their lives as they came to receive their salary because of delayed payment.
Moreover, there are not adequate facilities for female workers in the garment industries for which in most of the fire incident or stampede mostly female workers were victims.
According to available statistics, majority fire incidents occurred in garment factories due to inadequate facilities. Karmajibi Nari conducted a study and found that at least 338 garment workers were killed and 1,956 others injured in 24 fire incidents in the last 15 years. The first such incident claimed lives of 29 workers at Saraka Garments at Mirpur in December 27, 1990 and highest record was at the latest KTS fire. But there were also incidents of garment factory building collapse in which workers faced untimely death.
As no pragmatic step has so far been taken to stop this kind of fire incidents, there is still possibility of more shocking incidents of fire or building collapse in coming days.
Most of the deaths in these incidents happened as the guards kept the main gates locked. And the most devastating fire incident at the KTS Garment caused so many deaths because of repeat of the same thing which shows most garment factory owners are yet to learn lessons.
To avoid such frequent fire incidents in the garment factories firstly, the owners should unfailingly recognise the hard labour put by workers especially women workers. They say women are the wheel runners in the garment factories of the country and their rights to get wage and better working facility need to be met compliance requirements set by the government or by foreign buyers should be respected.
The garment factory owners can build a separate emergency exit door for the women workers. Regular visits by government and the BGMEA, BKMEA and BTMA officials can ensure conformity with issues of compliance.
On the occasion of International Women Day, commitment needs to be made by employers to give recognition to contributions of the workers including those of women.