Female garment worker numbers in decline: survey

Staff reporter, Outlookbangla.com

The percentage of female workers in the garment industry declined between 2015 and 2000, according to a survey.

In 2020, 59.2 per cent of the 4.22 million workers were female while 40.8 per cent male. In other words, there were some 24.98 lakh female workers while some 17.22 lakh male. In 2015, some 65 per cent or 25.91 lakh of the 4 million workers were female while 1.41 million male. The annual growth rate of female workers witnessed a slowdown of 0.7 per cent.

However, the rate was a positive 4 per cent for male workers. This also means the number of workers increased by only 1.07 per cent every year, said the survey.

The findings were detailed in a report on “Socio-economic Profile of Garment Workers of Bangladesh”, which was made public by AK Enamul Haque, executive director of research firm Asian Centre for Development, at a virtual programme yesterday.

The survey was conducted among 1,119 workers in 160 woven and knit garment and sweater factories in Dhaka, Savar and Chattogram.

It said the female worker ratio declined because of automation and for the nature of the machinery in the sector.

In this regard, Arshad Jamal Dipu, vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), claimed that female workers were less tech-savvy.

Moreover, males were preferring jobs in the garment sector for salary hikes, the study said.

The average age of garment workers is 25.9 years (males 27 years and females 25 years).

Some 74 per cent of workers are married and 25 per cent unmarried while 1 per cent is separated.

Some 89 per cent of workers migrated from other districts to join workplaces, mostly from Mymensingh and Rangpur.

Some 15 per cent of factories employed foreign professionals, mainly in managerial, merchandising, cutting and design and for technical operations.

There has been nomassive improvement in the living standards of garment workers despite the increase in wages between 2015 and 2020, said Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).

There has been no major change in purchasing power and savings from earnings by the garment workers even after the hike, he said.

Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of Policy Research Institute, said the number of workers passing out from technical institutions was low in the garment sector.

The reason for workers entering and leaving the sector so young should be unearthed, he said. “Can we make their stay in the sector longer?” he asked.

If international retailers and brands pay proper prices to local garment suppliers, workers will be better off, said BGMEA President Rubana Huq.

Bangladesh needs to put collective pressure on them so that they pay proper prices, she said.

Prices of Bangladeshi garment items declined by 4.78 per cent year-on-year last year, Huq said.

She also advocated for improving the country’s human resources, reasoning that some 15 per cent of garment factory managements hired foreign professionals to cater to jobs in management, merchandising and designing.

It will be very challenging for Bangladesh if the international retailers and brands do not pay proper prices, said KM Abdus Salam, secretary to the Ministry of Labour and Employment.

Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the CPD, suggested having an educational requirement of a certain level for garment worker employment to bring qualitative changes in the sector.

Rensje Teerink, the European Union ambassador to Bangladesh, said the EU has provided assistance to help laid-off workers in Bangladeshi garment factories during this time of Covid-19.

She suggested finding the reasons for the decrease in the number of female garment workers.

Tuomo Poutiainen, country director of International Labour Organization in Bangladesh, suggested expanding healthcare and welfare services and injury protection schemes for garment workers.

Zafar Sobhan, editor of The Dhaka Tribune, moderated the programme.

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