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Thoughts on Economics Vol. 20, No.

03

Problems of Bangladesh Garments Sector and their Solution An Islamic Perspective


Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled

Abstract: The paper relates to the Bangladesh garments sector. Garments workers are badly exploited by the factory owners in collaboration with their foreign buyers resulting in a sub-human standard of life of workers. The occasional agitations for higher wages and better amenities for workers are alleged to be fanned up to violence by some interested quarters together with the privileged unorganized labour leaders and certain NGOs. The recent violence following the declaration of the Wage Structure 2010 is alleged to be backed by those interested in taking away this industry from Bangladesh. The paper highlights the major problems faced by the industry and suggests solution in the light of the teachings of Islam.

I. Introduction
After the decline and fall of the jute industry just after liberation (recent media reports show a hopeful prospect of this industry) the garments industry now plays a vital role in the economy, starting about a decade or so after the emergence of Bangladesh. Like the jute growers and the jute industrial workers that were once the driving force of the Bangladesh economy, the same role is being played today by the garments industry and its workers, and they are the single largest number of industrial workers in the country. With the toil, sweat and untiring effort of the garments workers, this industry has achieved immense expansion. These workers join this industry with a hope of achieving social security and in search of livelihood. They usually come from the wretched families of rural Bangladesh. These rural families give their children very elementary education up to class one or two for making them eligible to work in the urban based garments industries. It has been shown in different research publications that about 96% of the male and 76% of the female workers are educated up to that level, but their attitude towards life is modern. Many young women want to avoid the curse of immature marriage and try to grow up as the mistress of their own life by

The author is a former Staff Economist (1968-1970), Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, Karachi, Pakistan. Former Professor of Economics and Vice-Principal, Comilla Womens College, Comilla Bangladesh. Comments of an anonymous referee are gratefully acknowledged but the opinions expressed in the paper are essentially the authors own.

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working in this sector (Wasif, 2010, P.13). The enthusiasm of rural youths, both male and female, forms the huge industrial cheap labour force of this sector. Apart from cheap local labour and subsidized energy such as gas and electricity, the garments sector of the economy is almost 100% dependent on imported machineries and other raw materials such as cloths, threads, buttons, furnace oil etcetera, and is almost 100% dependant on foreign buyers of its commodities, such as knitwear and woven garments. The local cheap labour do the function of value-added only and for that reason we may say that what we export as garments to the foreign market is only the local cheap labour, and the foreign buyers and investors are attracted to Bangladesh solely for this reason. Recently, since the wage rate of the workers of China are increasing, the Chinese industrialists are thinking of moving their investment to countries where labour is cheaper. Bangladesh may avail of this opportunity (Ittefaq Report on Economics, 5 June 2010, P.02). Bangladesh garments industry, like many other industries in the global economy, is highly sensitive to the ups and downs of the global market situation. Because of the nature of this particular industry, the economic lot of its labour class is also connected, ceteris paribus, with the prospect and prosperity of the global economy. As this is the single major sector of the Bangladesh economy employing a huge number of industrial workers, the well being of the workers should be of prime concern to the entrepreneurs of this sector and the government of the country for the lasting prosperity of the sector. It is neither a casual nor a seasonal industrial sector; its importance will prevail for a long time to come, since so long as civilization lasts people will wear clothing and import it. Bangladesh is still a strong competitor in the world apparels market with minor ups and downs. This paper discusses the various problems and prospects of this sector with special reference to the plight of the workers who are engaged in this very important modern sector of the Bangladesh economy. The article is arranged as follows: Section II deals with the principles of wage determination for the garments workers, Section III examines the newly declared wage structure 2010 for the garments workers. Section IV discusses the workers reaction to the new wage structure. Section V dwels with the owners reaction to the new wage structure, while Section VI comments on the profit motive of the garments owners and the imperialistic capitalists buyers. Section VII Concludes.

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II. Principles of Wage Determination for the Garments Workers


As regards wages of the garments workers, one may be identify at least three different opinions conformable to Capitalism, Socialism and Islam. 01. Capitalism Let us first of all look at the problem from the capitalistic point of view. David Ricardo, one of the fathers of the modern capitalistic thoughts of economics maintains that a labour should be given that amount of wage which is barely necessary to maintain his life and able to sell his labour. From here comes the capitalistic concept of the subsistence theory of wages. This subsistence wage rate ensures a labour to live like a mere animal. In this system the labourer as a person has no value to the capitalists; what concerns the capitalists is the labour power which they purchase. If the person X dies out of hunger the person Y will be available to the capitalists to sell labour at the wage rate at which X died. So it does not matter to the capitalists whether the subsistence wage rate is enough to keep the labourer alive or not. Capitalism in comparison to Slavery and Feudalism is an improved system in the sense that it has ensured the labourer freedom of his body; the labourer is free to work at the subsistence wage rate or die out of hunger. While the freedom to work or die does matter little to the capitalists, it did matter to the slave owner in Slavery or to the serf owner in Feudalism, since the death of a slave or a serf was a loss to the slave owner or a feudal lord like the death of a cattle to the farmer. Unlike the system of Slavery and Feudalism, Capitalism has given the owner class the advantage of dissociating them from the responsibility of making arrangement for the labourer to live. Thus the process of exploitation in capitalism is more inhuman than that of the system of Slavery and Feudalism; capitalism is a new type of more inhuman exploitative system, the basis of which is labour-slavery. Recent advancement in the determination of wage for the labourer in capitalism is the calculation of daily calorie intake necessary by the individual labourer to give the capitalist optimum labour per day. This in other sense is the basis of scientifically determining the subsistence wage rate. On this count, now it is maintained that the minimum wage rate should be the amount which is necessary for the reproduction of labour power; even this amount of wage rate is scarcely given by the owners of mills and factories to the labourers in most of the developing economies including Bangladesh and the scope of inhuman exploitation of the labourers by capitalists as explained above remains unaltered.

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02. Socialism The socialists maintain that the characteristic of human labour force is that it is able, by being used, to create the value which is more than the value of its production. The extra value id est. surplus value thus created is grabbed by the capitalists as their profit. This is capitalist exploitation. The socialists want to ascertain that the labourers get this surplus value which they produce instead of the capitalists, and thus the process of labour exploitation will come to an end and the labourers will get the due share of their produce in the form of wages. According to the socialists, the garments workers of Bangladesh are not even given the value of their labour power which they sell to the garments owners, not to speak of the surplus value which they create in the process of production in this sector. The workers of this sector are subjected to superexploitation instead of the normal process of exploitation that usually goes with capitalism (Selim, 12 August 2010, P.9). 03. Islam Islam, in ascertaining the wage of labourers, goes beyond the materialistic calculative methods of determining wages as we have seen above in Capitalism and Socialism. It appeals to and emphasizes on the responsibility of the employers on behalf of Allh to do justice to the workers in giving them their remunerations for the services they render to the employer so that both the employers and the workers can afford equal standard of living for their joint salvation and peace here in this world and the Hereafter. Islam, the religion of peace, gives special emphasis on and appeals to the brotherly humane character and spiritual gain of the employers to take into account while determining the wage for the workers they engage, instead of the material approach followed in Capitalism and Socialism. It is a piety to provide the workers with proper wage rate and remunerations. Hazrat Mohammad (s) says to the employers that, They (the employees) are your brothers. Allh has entrusted you with their responsibilities. So those on whom such responsibilities have been entrusted are liable to give them such food as they eat, make arrangement for them to wear such cloths as they wear, and shall never compel them to do such works which are painful and beyond their capacity to do, and if they are to do such works the employees will have to be given necessary assistance to do that piece of work (Hadith: Bukhari Sharif Kitabul Imaan). Hazrat Mohammad (s) also said that, the workers will not be compelled to do such work which will render them incapable and good-for-nothing (Hadith).

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To bring the nicely and properly determined wage rate to a level of justice, the following three conditions will have to be fulfilled: Firstly, the whole time wage is necessary to be of that amount which is capable of meeting the basic needs of the worker; in other words, each and every worker should be able to meet the general needs of himself and his family by the wage he receives. Secondly, after fulfilling the basic necessities, the employee or the worker should enjoy the opportunity of earning more according to the nature, craftsmanship or technicalities of the work, efficiency, the quality of his produce and according to the differences in proportions he makes to the profit made by the employer, id est. efficient, skilled and workers engaged in risky economic activities will get more. Thirdly, the wage will be determined under the above two conditions on the basis of free will and voluntary mutual understanding of the employer and the employee. With the purpose of creation of an environment of brotherly cooperation and for the fulfillment of the condition of just wages the following duties will have to be performed by the employer at the level of code of good conduct for piety. A portion of the product that is produced by the workers will have to be given away to the workers free of cost or at a nominal price. The residential accommodation, health care facilities, educational facilities, provision for harmless amusements and other relevant facilities will have to be provided to the workers. At the time of distribution of profits, a portion of that as bonus will have to be given to the workers. There shall have to be arrangements for monetary help from some special funds for the workers in times of adversity. Working hour should be specific and the time for rest will have to be ascertained. Workers will have to be treated with sympathy under all circumstances. As soon as the work under contract is finished, the worker or the employee must be paid his wage or salary immediately without delay as the case may be. Hazrat Mohammad (s) says, Pay off the wage of workers before the sweat of his tired body is dried up (Hadith).

III. Declared Wage Structure 2010 for the Garments Workers of Bangladesh
01. Rise of the Garments Sector If we want to go back to the origin we shall have to start with Riaz Garments which presented its product id est. shirts on behalf of the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1969 to the three astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michel Collins who were invited to this country for successfully completing the first human Moon mission. Afterwards Riaz Garments first exported garments in 1978 to Europe. Since then much water has gone down

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the river Buriganga, and Riaz Garments is no more (Rahman, 11 July 2010, P. 13). It is on record that in 1983-84, garments export was worth $31.57 million which was 3.89% of the total export of Bangladesh. Because of the coming forward of private sector banks, the garments industry started growing rapidly. In 1986-87 garments export was worth $298.67 million, which was 27.74% of the then total export; and in the past financial year 2009-10 garments export was worth $12.35 billion (in Bangladeshi currency Taka 864.50 billion) which is 79.33% of total export. In the financial year 2008-09 the GDP of Bangladesh was Taka 6149.43 billion of which the contribution of the garments industry is about 10%. According to a survey report of the Department of Textile the total investment in the textile and garments industry is about Taka 406.00 billion (Rahman, 1 August 2010, P.13). At present, in this labour intensive totally private sector of the Bangladesh economy, around 4 millions workers, which is about 65% of the total workers engaged in the manufacturing sector of the country, are directly engaged in about 5 thousand garments industrial units. The number of workers engaged directly and indirectly in this sector and other related industries will exceed 20 million. Of the garments workers about 80% are girls. There are about 3 thousand owners of the 5 thousand garment industrial units (Rahman, 11 July 2010, P.13, 23 and 1 August 2010, P.13). From this point of view this is the most successful business sector of the present day Bangladesh (excluding the manpower export sector of the economy). This may be compared with the once prosperous jute industry of Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan of the sixties of the past century). As regards the rights of women to work together with men outside home (here the garments industry) there is no bar in Islam in doing that so long as they maintain appropriate Parda conformable to Islam. About the overall rights of the women Allh says, They (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them.2/228 As regards Parda Allh says, Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands fathers, or their sons or their husbands sons, or their brothers or brothers sons or sisters sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of womens nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. 24/30-31 Verily! Allh loseth not the wages of the good.9/120

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The income that a woman earns is her own and the husband has no ownership on that. Thus the economic rights of women have been well established in Islam. In respect of dignity and right of men and women Islam has established equity and justice (Dainandin Zibane Islam, 2000, P. 438). 02. Wage Structure 2010 The Wage Board Chairman handed over to the government a draft proposal of Wage Structure for the Garments Sector of Bangladesh which was declared on 29 July 2010 (Table 1). The draft proposal says that, before assessing the minimum wage for this industry, the cost and standard of living of the workers, the productivity of the workers, the price of the produce, inflation, and business capability etcetera have been taken into consideration. The Wage Board presented the draft proposal of Wage Structure as per the order No. 139 of the Bangladesh Labour Law 2006. The last wage structure in the Garments Sector was declared in 2006. Although according to the labour law a new wage structure is to be fixed 5 years after the previous fixation of wage in an industry, the government has declared the new wage structure right now, the new minimum wage structure will come into effect from 01 November 2010. Table I. The Proposed Wage Structure 2010 for the Garments Workers of Bangladesh Class Grade 1 Grade 2 Grade 3 Grade 4 Grade 5 Grade 6 Grade 7 Apprentice Wage Year 2006 In Taka 5,140 3,840 2,449 2,250 2,046 1,851 1,662 1,200 Wage Year 2010 In Taka 9,300 7,200 4,120 3,763 3,455 3,210 3,000 2,500 Rate of Increase % 80.93 87.50 68.23 67.24 68.87 73.42 80.45 108.33

*The apprenticeship period is 3 months, but if the apprentice cannot attain satisfactory efficiency by that time, the factory owners will be able to extend the period by another 3 months. (For details of workers by designations, see Appendix I). Source: Rahman, 1 August 2010. P. 13.

The Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) said that they were not sure if all industrial units of the sector would be able to pay as per the new wage structure from 01 November 2010,

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but that they would be inspired to pay the workers at the new rate of payment. The Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) said that the production of factories had fallen by 40% for various reasons and called upon the government to solve the problems of gas and electricity before the implementation of this pay structure (Rahman, 1 August 2010. P. 13). Appealing to the garments owners to be more cordial to the problems of the workers, the government has also assured that the garments workers will be provided with subsidized rationing facilities for rice and wheat on behalf of the government (Ittefaq, 1 August 2010, P.11).

IV. Workers Reaction to the New Wage Structure 2010


Immediate reaction of the workers to the new wage structure was widespread violence. They came down in tens of thousands on the streets from garments factories almost all over the country. They set fire on garments factories, broke instruments of factories and cars of factory owners, including those of innocent people, and shopping malls on the streets. Thus they created a panic and havoc all around the country in and around the garments factories, which turned difficult and almost impossible for the law enforcing agencies to control. This widespread havoc, which was widely and exclusively covered by the national and international print and electronic media continued for three to four consecutive days in the country causing, according to the BGMEA, Taka 8.75 billion losses to the garments industry alone. The causes of violence was that the Wage Board did not pay heed to garments workers long continued demand of Taka 5 thousand as minimum wage, but instead set Taka 3 thousand as minimum wage. The agitating leaders of the workers organizations rejected the three party joint decisions of the Government, BGMEA and Workers representatives saying that they declared to accept the wage structure without any discussion with the actual leaders of the workers. They say that the wage structure has been imposed upon the workers only through sittings with the government assisted leaders of the workers organizations. Their appeal was by discussing the issue with the actual leaders of the workers, and implement it from 28 April 2010 (Ittefaq, 3 August 2010, P.2). Some experts claim that since there are no trade union facilities in the garments industries the spontaneous resentment of the workers went beyond control. They suggest that just as the owners have the right of association and to elect their own representatives, the workers also should have their right of association and trade union facilities, so that they can elect their own

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representatives to bargain with the owners. If this had been done earlier, the incidents that occurred after the declaration of the wage structure 2010, could be avoided (Selim, 12 August 2010, P.9). According to those that argue against the declared wage structure for Bangladeshi garments workers, the minimum wage of an unskilled worker necessary to pay for food, clothing, shelter, health care, etcetera at the present level of commodity prices should actually be more than Taka 5,000. Since the garments workers are semi-skilled, their reasonable wage should be Taka 6/7 thousand, which is above the wage that the considerate garments workers demanded. Moreover, these workers get much lower wage than their counterparts in other countries like China, India, Vietnam, Pakistan etcetera whose apparels mainly compete with those of Bangladesh in the world market (Table II).
Table II. Comparative minimum wages of garments workers in some competing countries

Country Turkey Mexico China India Vietnam Pakistan Sri Lanka Bangladesh

Wage per Month $ N.A N.A 300 106 92 116 92 25

Wage per Hour $ 2.44 2.17 1.44 0.51 0.44 0.56 0.44 0.22

Source: Selim, 22 July 2010, P. 9. Turkey and Mexico figures are from Uddin, 21 July 2010, P.11. The principal source of data produced by these authors is a World Bank (WB) study.

From the comparative picture of minimum wages depicted in Table II, it can be argued that even if the Bangladeshi apparels workers demand for Taka 5 thousand as minimum wage is accepted, they will receive less than $ 72 per month or $ 0.34 per hour, which still remains the lowest among the comparator countries. So the argument which the garments owners always make that, if the wages of the workers are increased this industry will lose its external competitiveness is not tenable. One may raise the question of productivity of the Bangladeshi garments workers, but even under that consideration the Bangladeshi garments workers are deprived. According to a WB account a Bangladeshi worker by producing 2536 numbers of T-shirts per year gets $290, whereas an Indian worker gets $668 by producing only 56 more T-shirts per year. According to a Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)

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account, export earnings of the garments industries in 2001-02 was $4.58 billion of which a little more than $0.22 billion was paid to the workers, which is only 5% of the total earnings, although by the sweat of the workers value added was 31% of the total value (Selim, 22 July 2010, P. 9). Garments industry has turned into a main pillar of the Bangladesh economy, accounting for three-fourth of the countrys total export earnings. The garments owners have been able to spread an idea that this is their main or paramount credit. But the actual truth is that there is no backward linkage in the Bangladesh garments sector to speak about; as a result the lion-share of the value added here is the contribution of the labour power, if not the whole. The main foundation and source of the rapid expansion of the Bangladesh garments industry is the cheap labour power. In Bangladesh the intensity of capital per worker is very low (1/3 in comparison to China). The owners of the garments industry could own so large amounts of wealth mainly in exchange of the self-sacrifice of the workers who do bone-breaking work day and night at unusually low wages. So if any one is to be recognized as Commercially Important Person (CIP) and given some special advantages, it is the 3 to 4 million garments workers of Bangladesh who are the real Hero, not the taxavoiding millionaire owners (Selim, 12 August 2010, P.9). The argument that the garments workers should get their just wage is thus incontrovertible. It is ironic that when garments workers are being deprived of their rightful wages, the pomp and granger and standard of living of the garments owners are gradually increasing. Many of them purchasing first class air tickets and booking five star hotels abroad go on luxurious world tour with their family members once or twice every year. They hesitate little while spending money in such a lavish manner, but if the question of giving the workers just wages and minimum of facilities arise they always wail if this is done the industry will be ruined. Business is very bad these days (Selim, 22 July 2010, P. 9). Such practice of the garments owners does not even conform to the principles of wage determination in Islam as shown above in Section II, 03. It is simply the capitalistic exploitative indifference (parallel to coercive methods that is followed in socialism) which they show to the just interests of the workers who turn into sweat their blood every day in garments factories. This is simply unjust. Allh does not accept it. Al Qurn reveals, Allh hath favoured some of you above others in provision. Now those who are more favoured will by no means hand over their provision to those (slaves) whom their right hands possess, so they may be equal with them in respect thereof. Is it then the grace of Allh that they deny?16/71

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It is not only in Bangladesh, the garments workers are discontented all over the world. The difference is that workers elsewhere do not adopt the policy of breaking and setting fire to factories as the Bangladeshi workers do. To put forth their grievances, they may choose the way of agitation but they do not violate the law. China also faces the events of discontents. The workers there come to the cities to do bone-breaking work, leaving behind the painful village life, but for that they demand reasonable remunerations. They are unwilling to work shutting down eyes-ear-mouth like their predecessors. Before or after work, the discontented garments workers demand increase in wage by standing on the roads such incidents are occurring much in China (Royel, 16 August 2010, P. 20). The way in which the garments workers of Bangladesh reacted to the new wage structure is also un-Islamic. Al Qurn reveals, But seek the abode of the Hereafter in which Allh hath given thee and neglect not thy portion of the world, and be thou kind even as Allh hath been kind to thee, and seek not destructive affairs in the earth; verily! Allh loveth not those who seek destructive affairs. 28/77 It is Islamic, as said above (in Section II, 03), that the wage will be determined on the basis of free will and voluntary mutual understanding of the employer and the employee.

V. Owners reaction to the new Wage Structure 2010


(i) Problems faced by the owners The crisis of the apparels industry are not limited merely to the wages and allowances of the workers. The production of the factories has come down to a half, export has decreased, and the price of the apparels is decreasing in the international market. The owners of the apparels industry say that the supply of gas and electricity is not continuous, because of which they are compelled to use generators to keep the production process of the factories continuous. This results in increasing cost of production. But it is urgent to reduce the cost of production to keep the price competitive in the international market. The related entrepreneurs say that if the government fails to supply sufficient gas and electricity then industrialization in this country will be hampered. Moreover, serious and untoward incidents are being occurred on the basis of rumours and petty demands; it has become a ploy to destroy factories by spreading news of misbehaviour of the factory owners with the workers, which is tarnishing the image of Bangladesh as an exporting country in the outside world (Dilal, 11 July 2010, P.13).

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But it cannot also be denied that sometimes there occur abnormal deaths of workers in the garments factories (Ittefaq. 24 July 2010, P.1 and Ittefaq, 27 July 2010, P. 1). It is also alleged that the kidney disease is widespread among the garments workers as they are discouraged to drink water during their duty period, because if they drink water during their duty time they may have to repeatedly go to the urinal (Selim, 22 July 2010, P. 9). This is inhuman, whereas Al Qurn reveals that, I would not make it hard for thee, Allh willing, thou will find me of the righteous.28/27 (ii) Falling trend of the prices of apparels in the international market Export Promotion Bureau and BGMEA sources say that apparels prices in the international market are gradually falling recently. Table III shows the price per dozen at which the foreign buyers purchased apparels from Bangladesh in the last 16 years from 1994-95 to 2009-2010 (July to November) (Hasan, 26 July 2010, P. 2). Table III. Apparels price per dozen at which the foreign buyers purchased during 1994 95 to 2009 2010 (July to November) Year Price per Dozen in $ 1994-95 35.65 1995-96 35.38 1996-97 37.06 1997-98 38.52 1998-99 39.63 1999-00 38.87 2000-01 39.19 2001-02 32.64 2002-03 32.31 2003-04 31.23 2004-05 30.22 2005-06 28.85 2006-07 27.69 2007-08 27.50 2008-09 26.82 2009-10 (July-November) 26.62
Source: Hasan, The Daily Ittefaq, 58th Year, No.211, 26 July 2010, P. 2.

Table III shows that apparels prices increased gradually from 1994-95 to 2000-01 with a slight fall in the year 1995-96 compared to the immediate past year, after which the prices jumped; then from 2001-02 prices fell continuously till 2009-10. For this reason, the apparels owners were unwilling

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to accept Taka 5,000 as minimum wage for the garments workers, because this will, in their view, adversely affect the garments sector (Hasan, 26 July 2010, P. 2). The owners proposed Taka 2,513 as minimum wage for the second time, whereas the visiting General Secretary of the International Textile, Garments and Leather workers Federation said, after meeting separately with both the owners and the workers at Dhaka that, it will cause no harm to the industry if Taka 5,000 is given to the workers as minimum wage (Jugantar, 23 July 2010, P. 2). Afterwards, as a result of the intervention made by the government, the BGMEA accepted the new wage structure with Taka 3,000 as minimum wage for the garments workers of Bangladesh. If it is just, there is no question; but if unjust, in that case Allh says, Woe unto the defrauders, those who when they take the measure from mankind demand it full, but if they measure unto them or weigh for them, they cause them loss.83/1-3 Garments workers sweat their blood in the process of production of garments in the factories and it is alleged that for months after months the owners do not come to the factories; the factories are usually run by the salaried officials who habitually misbehave with the hard working labourers of the factories (Khayer, 29 July 2010, P. 2) It is Haram (not permissible) to consume the fruits of the workers by sitting idle without their consent (Alam, 2003, P.200201); this negates the usual capitalist concept that its highest executives spend their time sitting on public committees, and have to have deputies to do their work (Lewis (1954), 1963, P.412) as this is improper. (iii) Alleged attempts to destroy the Garments Sector: Six causes: The garments owners claim that a certain quarter has started hatching conspiracy to destroy the garments sector of the country. The external miscreants by intruding the garments establishments in the guise of workers have started misdeeds. They are being instigated and used by certain interested quarters from outside. The concerned parties have identified six causes behind the attempts to destroy the garments sector. These are: (a) the foreign buyers recent inclination to Bangladesh, (b) The instigation of some external powers, (c) the assistance of local influential quarters and the so called labour leaders, (d) the intrusion of the jutting outs miscreants in to the garments factories, (e) the differences of opinions of the political miscreants centering the occupation of the Jhut sector, and (f) the internal feud among the labour leaders. The actual workers have no affiliation with these factors. The garments establishments are getting jobs these days (Badal, 2 August 2010, P. 2)

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May be there is a conspiracy to harm the garments sector of Bangladesh but when the disturbances in this sector erupts, tens of thousands of workers come down on the streets which is pictured in the national and international electronic media. It is illogical to conclude that all of them are miscreants; there may be some who fan the fire of discontents in the minds of the deprived workers. If the workers are satisfied with and had there been no serious discontents in the minds of the workers about what is going on in this sector, it is obvious that it would have been almost impossible to drag down on the streets tens of thousands of innocent workers by a single or a series of mobile calls of the miscreants from outside as is alleged by some experts (Dey, 1 August 2010, P.11) and at the same time the disguised miscreants inside the factories could do little harm to this sector. Our habit is to expect too much from law and law enforcing agencies, we forget that they have some natural limits to their capacities; they can at best suppress the problems for the time being but not permanently cure the actual problems prevailing in the factories. It is the owners of the factories who can play the pivotal role in bringing about peace in the factories by allowing the workers their due share to their produce in the factories in the form of satisfactory wages and allowances by cutting down the excess profits they earn. It is not permissible in Islam to earn excessive profits by coercing the working class or the purchasers of commodities. Islam prefers to advise the business community to ascertain a middle course in between the highest and the lowest margin of profits for success in both the worlds, here and the Hereafter. The garments owners will have to understand that the minimum wage of a garments worker is Taka 1,662 (now Taka 3,000). Actually the new basic wage rate is Taka 2,000, while the minimum basic pay for a government employee is Taka 6,545. Of the remaining Taka 1,000, Taka 800 is house rent allowance and Taka 200 is medical allowance, which like other allowances are not usually included in the basic wage/pay in any other services as has been done in the case of wage of the garments workers; It is difficult for the workers to sustain their life under the prevailing high prices of daily necessities with this meagre amount of money. As a result, suppressed despair and discontent is naturally there in the minds of the workers (Hydar, 15 May 2010, P. 2), which burst out from time to time, as we see, in the factories causing unrest and disturbances in this sector. To control this is beyond the capacity of the law enforcing agencies, and the government, too, cannot and should not always shoulder such selfish interests and responsibilities of the private factory owners at public costs even though the factory owners pay taxes. They are to solve their own problems by bringing contentment in the mind of the workers by allowing them satisfactory wages. Government can at

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best assist them in this regard. Al Qurn reveals, Help ye one another unto righteousness and pious duty. Help not one another unto sin and transgression, but keep your duty to Allh.5/2 (iv) International conspiracy BGMEA sources are often heard to official say that some interested quarters are hatching conspiracies to divert the attention of the buyers from the Bangladeshi apparels industry. Rival competing countries allegedly create unrest in the industry and instigate the garments workers to engage in destructive activities such as breaking and setting fire to garments factories. It has been seen that factories where wages and allowances are satisfactory, in other words the compliance factories, are being mainly chosen for attack and creating disturbances. Garments owners and exporters maintain that, in the name of just wages for the workers, some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are instigating the workers to create trouble in the factories. They spread discontent among workers under various pretexts and send the news of such unrest to different international media. Such news worries the foreign buyers about the uncertainty of supplies from Bangladesh and makes them choose safe sources of supply elsewhere. Because of the global economic depression, the demand for apparels and the price thereof has fallen significantly in the international market. Owners and exporters of apparels are now in a panic, because of the fear that if in the present adverse global economic situation worker unrest remains widespread, the garments sector will not survive. BGMEA leaders claim that wage payments of the workers in factories have not been stopped even in this period of international recession. They say, it is not the actual workers of the factories but the occupiers of Jhut trading, together with other problems, which create unrest in the garments industries at present. Leaders of the Combined Garment Workers Federation (CGWF) maintain that the problems can be solved through mutual understanding and not by shutting down the factories (Dilal, 11 July 2010, P.13). CGWF leaders admit that there are some pending problems of the actual workers in some garments factories. These problems need to be solved by the factory owners either individually at the factory level or collectively at the sector level, so that the national and international self seekers cannot utilize the innocent workers to serve their own heinous purpose. Some of the privileged labour leaders of the garments industries frequently or occasionally visit various foreign countries under the patronage of some interested national and international quarters. They have amassed huge amount

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Problems of Bangladesh Garments Sector

of money and property. They are also accused of blackmailing both the factory owners and the workers of this sector and causing disturbances that erupt from time to time in this successful sector of the Bangladesh economy (Sipu, 5 August 2010, P.1). The concerned parties should remember what Allh says, Keep the covenant. Verily! Of the covenant it will be asked.

VI. Profit motive of the Garments Owners and the Imperialistic Capitalists buyers
For the creation of additional employment for the surplus labour, capital investment in different fields of economic activities is a must, and, in capitalism, if our interest is in an expanding capitalist sector, the assumption of profit maximization is probably a fair approximation to the truth (Lewis (1954), 1963, P.407). In capitalism, workers are involved in the process of production, but they are not considered as sharers of the profit. It is permissible to earn a reasonable margin of profit in Islam by producing and trading Halal (permissible) goods and the profit is not appropriated by the producers or traders alone but injunctions have been given that give the workers a share from the earnings (profits) of their labour; because the workers of Allh cannot be deprived (Hadith: Quoted in Dainandin Zibane Islam, 2000, P.500). But we see an entirely different picture in the Bangladesh garments sector at large. 01. The owners of the garments factories spread an idea that if the wage of the workers is increased the factories will incur loss and the result will be the closure of the factories id est. an increase in wages will be ruinous to this golden egg laying sector. But this is not at all true. An International Labour Organization (ILO) survey reveals that, the minimum wage of workers of Bangladesh in the garments sector is the lowest compared to other competing countries in the world. Let us have a look at Table IV. Table IV. Comparative picture of Minimum Wages and Profit margin in the Garments Sector of different competing Countries Countries Minimum wage in $ Profit margin per Month % India 113 11.8 Pakistan 118 N.A Vietnam 120 6.5 China 204 3.2 Bangladesh 39 43.1
Source: Selim, 13 August 2010, P. 19. Bangladeshi minimum wage is corrected in the table. Selim quotes $69, equivalent to Taka 4,830, which is above the new minimum wage that is yet to come in to effect.

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The WB estimates of minimum wages given in Table II are at variance with the ILO estimates presented in Table IV. ILO estimates seem to be slightly inflated for countries like India, Pakistan, widely inflated for countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh, and deflated by a wide margin for China, in comparison to WB estimates. However, even if the wage rate is increased by reducing the rate of profit of the Bangladeshi apparels owners by as much as 50 percent, the profit margin of the Bangladeshi owners will remain higher than that of other competing countries. A Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) study shows that in Taka 100 worth of Bangladeshi apparels the amount of value added by labour is Taka 31. Of this Taka 31, the worker receives only Taka 7 and the owner takes away Taka 24. Even if the worker is given Taka 15, then also the owner will be able to earn a profit of Taka 16; and if the former account is taken into consideration, even then the profit margin will remain 22% which is still more than that of India, China, and Vietnam. It is common knowledge that if the wage rate is increased, the efficiency of the workers and the productivity of the industry will also increase. Allh says, For the best (worker) that thou canst hire is strong, the trustworthy. 28/26 The necessary precondition for this is to pay the worker sufficient wage so that the worker can keep himself/herself mentally and physically healthy for satiety and higher productivity. The revised wage structure was declared on 29 July 2010. All concerned naturally assumed that it would come into effect from August 2010. But it was later decided that the new wage structure would come into effect from November 2010. This means that the workers would receive enhanced wage from December 2010, by which time two Eid festivals would be over. Therefore, the purpose of the section of garments owners is very clear. They are desperate to take surreptitiously immense profit over night by keeping the cheap wage situation (Selim, 13 August 2010, P. 19). 02. In Bangladesh the garments industry is not at all an isolated issue. International monopoly capital and imperialistic capital is directly connected with it. Along with cloths-threads-buttons etcetera, machineries and equipments id est. everything as a whole is required to be purchased from them. On the other hand, the process of marketing of almost the entire amount of produce is controlled by them. The pre and post process of production is entirely dependent on the multinational companies and imperialist capital and is the prey of their reckless exploitation and deprivation. The renowned foreign companies, including Wal-Mart, sell a shirt at $10 in the shops of New York by purchasing that at $3 from Bangladesh. Their profit will be more if

40

Problems of Bangladesh Garments Sector

they can purchase at a lower price. Because of that greed they control the international market of garments industry in such a manner that the selling countries are compelled to engage among themselves in cut-throat competition to sell their apparels at the cheapest possible price. The apparels producing countries, including Bangladesh, without trying collectively to encounter the exploitations and deprivations by the imperialistic economic powers, which control the equipment of the garments industry and the apparels market, try desperately and sell apparels at low prices to please them. To survive the cutthroat competition to sell the apparels to the foreign buyers along with their purpose to take surreptitiously immense profit the garments industry owners have to try to lower the cost of production as low as possible. The price of raw materials and equipments of the industry is beyond their control; so they usually have almost nothing to do in that regard. Moreover, the Bangladeshi garments owners always try to remain in the good book of whichever government comes to power for availing of the benefits such as tax exemptions, loan facilities, bailing out funds etcetera because of which they are not serious about pressurizing the governments for satisfactory supply of gas and electricity. Therefore, in order to make out a place in the world market, and earn a big amount of profit, the garments owners choose the only way, and that is to give the workers a wage rate as low as possible (Selim, 12 August 2010, P.9). Time has come for the Bangladeshi garments owners to remember that, It is illegal to sustain loss (yourself) and cause loss to (other) (Hadith). 03. In a capitalistic system there always exists a natural conflict between the capitalists and the workers on the question of wages. The lesser the wage, the more is the possibility of increasing the rate of profits by the owners. The owner wants to use the labour power of the worker at the least possible wage. On the other hand the worker wants to increase his wage as far as possible. He wants to get the wage that will enable him lead a minimum possible living standard. It is the question of his existence as a human being. From the owners side, the urge to keep down the wage of the worker is an inherent characteristic of capitalism; in the garments industry this is relatively higher. In this tug-war of wage fixation between the owners and the workers, the owners always win. This is what has happened recently in the garments sector of Bangladesh also. In Bangladesh, if because of illness the workers fail to go to work any day, no owner of the factory pays them wage. Moreover, if they demand their just due, it is alleged that the owners torture them with the help of hired miscreants (Khan, 24 July 2010, P. 2). Their daily meal is a piece of simple bread in the morning, rice mixed with salt and pungent at noon and rice with vegetable

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soup at night; as a result many a worker becomes prey of untimely death (Hasan, 26 July 2010, P. 1). This is contrary to the directives given to the employers in the Hadith as mentioned above, They (the employees) are your brothers. Allh has entrusted you with their responsibilities. So those on whom such responsibilities have been entrusted are liable to give them such food as they eat, make arrangement for them to wear such cloths as they wear, and shall never compel them to do such works which are painful and beyond their capacity to do, and if they are to do such works the employees will have to be given necessary assistance to do that piece of work (Hadith: Bukhari Sharif Kitabul Imaan). 04. A few months back, after visiting an apparels industry in Ashulia, the Chairman of an apex US apparels buying organization Jaycee Penny expressed deep concern at the recent unstable conditions at the garments factories of Bangladesh and said, it is impossible for the workers to sustain life at the present wage rate, but it is not possible to increase apparels prices in the US since recession is still continuing there (Khan, 24 July 2010, P.1). This is just like shedding crocodile tears as the miser westerners usually do by seeing the wretched conditions of the people of the developing countries which are their own creation around the world by exploiting them for decades after decades in the name of development id est., creating a world after its own image, after centuries of colonial lootings, oppression and suppression by the sneering British with the help of their local henchmen. The Bangladeshi rising capitalists are following the legacy of the colonial past in the guise of creating employment opportunities for the unemployed males and females of their own origin in the apparels industry, like in all other industries of the country. They follow the western capitalists in the modern sectors (as well as agriculture). Allh says, Follow not the footstep of the devil. Verily! he is an open enemy for you.2/168 05. A section of the garments owners are loading their pockets with tens of millions of Taka while being reluctant to pay the workers their monthly wage above Taka 2,500. Many garments owners are making millions of Taka by black marketing the cloths coming through shipment, but they are hesitant to pay even Taka 2,500 per month to the workers. They are not even regular in their monthly payments to the workers whatever low wage they commit them to pay. For not being paid for 2/3 months, incidents of workers discontents and conflicts spread afterwards in those garments factories. On the other hand, the owners of these factories have taken tens of millions of Taka bank loans in the name of these garments factories, and are being forgiven for not paying off such debts.

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Problems of Bangladesh Garments Sector

BGMEA has built a luxurious building the purpose of which was to create experienced manpower in the garments sector and to provide the workers with health care facilities. But training facilities are there only in name, while BGMEA is receiving tens of millions of Taka as commissions from shipment per year (Khayer, 29 July 2010, P. 2). The BGMEA building, the concrete peak of vulgar pomp and wealth, is covering the sky of the capital city when garments workers are passing their days in everywhere in Bangladesh intolerable poverty. Allh says, O ye who believe! Squander not your wealth among yourselves in vanity, except it is a trade by mutual consent, and kill not one another.4/29

VII. Conclusion
The acute dependence on the self-centered capitalist western public for apparels markets for the countrys overall economic development is a major weakness of Bangladeshs economic policy. The economically advanced countries of the west are eager to import our exportable goods produced by cheap labour at the lowest possible prices but export to us their high cost manufactured goods at increasingly higher prices, including their brand of political democracy. Their commodities and democracy are gradually tarnishing the age old rich socio-economic and religious-cultural values of our own. The west compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves; in one word, it creates a world after its own image (Marks-Engels, Vol. 1, P. 38). Under this process there will probably emerge a handful of vertex billionaires in Bangladesh someday but the dignity and glory of the nation will not remain unimpaired. Let us remember what Al Qurn reveals, Ye are the best community that hath been raised up for mankind. Ye enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency; and ye believe in Allh; and if the People of the Scripture had believed it had been better for them. Some of them are believers; but most of them are evil-livers.3/110 From the buyers side it is said that if a western retailer paid 2 pence more in UK currency per piece of apparels, then the wage of the garments workers could be doubled provided the garments owners paid the workers just wage. The diplomatic missions abroad may demand that foreign buyers give us reasonable price for our apparels. Of course it is true that if we ask for better prices for our apparels, the buyers may not automatically raise it, but if collective efforts by developing exporting are launched, it may probably help apparels prices to rise by some percentage points. The increased price may in course of time go to the pockets of the workers; this is what actually is called

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trickle down effect in economics literature (Ittefaq, An analyst, 8 August 2010, P. 23). The garments factory owners of Bangladesh and their western imperialist capital owning allies should remember the age old proverb that Hungry men are the angry men and no law and law enforcing agencies can resist them from bursting out in the long run. Had it not been so, the European colonies around the world could survive for eternity, and the garments factories are trifle things. The garments owners of Bangladesh should try to search out an alternative market for their apparels outside the west. According to business leaders there is enough demand for Bangladeshi apparels in Saudi Arabia. Strong effort will need to be made to tap this potential, for example, by establishing Bangla Bazar or Bangla Town in Saudi Arabia similar to the China Bazar or China Town around the world. Saudi Arabia can be a good market for Bangladeshi apparels if the designs of the apparels are conformable to their demands together with the western designs which are also demanded there as Arab women and children of different Middle Eastern countries residing in Saudi Arabia have recently become accustomed to wearing western types of garments (Sayeed, 22 August 2010, P. 23). Other Middle Eastern countries can also be prospective markets of Bangladeshi apparels if efforts are made to expand the apparels markets there. The sole dependence on the western apparels markets, as it stands presently, could thereby be reduced. Al Qurn reveals that, He (Allh) it is Who hath made the earth useful unto you, so walk in the paths thereof.67/15 In addition to looking for new markets Bangladesh will have to export more-value-added apparels instead of increasing the quantity of exports. To do this, emphasis will have to be given on high-tech fashion rich production and export of apparels. Bangladesh at present mainly exports apparels like basic T-shirts, polo-shirts, cotton-shirts and trousers in which the amount of value-added is very low. This is also one of the reasons why the garments owners cannot pay sufficient wage to the garments workers (Karim, 28 August 2010, P. 07). Side by side, efforts should have to be made for gradual expansion of the domestic market of apparels through improving the purchasing power of the countrys large population to reduce the huge dependence of the garments sector on only the traditional foreign markets. It is not logical to pay low wage to the workers on the ground that there is abundant supply of labour in the economy. Likewise, it is not logical to threaten the worker that the garments owners will shut down the factories if the workers demand higher wages. It is coercion on the part of the rich ones

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to prevaricate in the case of giving away the wage of the workers and pay off debts (Hadith: Bukhari and Muslim), it is farther said that the Prophet (s) will raise allegations against three kinds of persons in the day of resurrection, of them one is The person who makes one work hard and even after realizing work in full from him, does not pay the worker his due wage (Hadith: Bukhari). There may exist disputes among the owners and the workers centering arrear payments and these can be solved in a peaceful manner. But no one should be allowed to capitalize on these disputes and incite workers to create violence as some labour leaders and NGOs have allegedly been doing every now and then. It is said that these labour leaders receive tens of millions of Taka as bribe from the said foreign NGOs; even the garments owners also give these labour leaders fat amount of money as bribe. Imprecation of Allh is on both the givers and receivers of bribes(Quoted in Dainandin Zibane Islam, 2000, P.516 from Aan Nihaya Fi Garibil Hadis, Allama Ibnul Asir (r), Vol. II, P. 226). Destruction and eventual shutting down of the factories brings no good to the workers. If labour leaders and NGOs are found responsible for inciting violence, they should be dealt with iron hands. The resent cancellation of the registration of an NGO by the government is a good example. In an environment of intimate relations between the owners and the workers, there will exist no misunderstandings between them. The workers will remain satisfied with the wage the owners pay to them and both the owners and their factories will be safe, there will be need no need for industrial police to wield sticks over the heads of the workers to keep them calm. A healthy growth of the garments sector is necessary in the collective interest of all entrepreneurs, workers and the economy as a whole. Yet, it is true that some owners are busy in making their pockets heavy without giving the workers. There are directives of the finance ministry and the Bangladesh Bank to provide financial assistance to the losing establishments. Some tries to take the benefit without being loser. The garments workers should be paid minimum wage by taking into consideration their overall cost of living, i.e., the costs of food, clothing, shelter and health care. Many garments owners are eager to run the garments factories by paying the workers Taka 5,000 as minimum wage. They maintain that a business in which the workers are paid their just wages cannot but flourish. But congenial environment will have to be ensured by preventing any unrest created by political elements and toll raisers in the Jhut business. They claim that a handful garments owners that do not pay the workers their due are creating

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problems. This is one of the reasons put forward for the introduction of industrial police to prevent anarchy in the Jhut sector and to control the defaults in wage payments by certain owners. But the CGWF leaders argue that the arrest of the defaulting owner will not serve the purpose of the workers. The right course of action will be to allow trade union facilities so that the owners and the workers can solve their problems through discussions (Chaudury, 15 August 2010, P. 13). BGMEA and BKMEA leaders welcome industrial police while CGWF leaders want the right for trade union facilities for fruitfully solving the problems between the garments owners and the workers through consultations. Even Al Qurn reveals that the affairs are a matter of counsel42/38 and who make amicable settlement, his wage is the affair of Allh. 42/40 Prophet (s) has asked not to buy anything from a helpless person (Hadith: Abu Daud). It means that it is not permissible to take unlawful advantage of his helpless condition. Shah Oali Ullah (r) has opined that an approval taken by force is unacceptable in Islam (Hujjatulillahil Baliga, Vol. 2, P.103. Quoted in Dainandin Zibone Islam, 2000, P.482). Bangladesh has made a commendable success in the garments sector. Let this sector not be ruined like the once prosperous jute sector of Bangladesh because of the rashness either on the part of the owners or the workers or both or other concerned third parties. We may at best beg by heart to Allh the Almighty in the words of Bengali poet Tagore Zvgvi cZvKv hvi `vI Zvi ewnevi `vI kw (To whom Thou givest Your flag, give him the strength to bear it). Let us move forward in our own traditional holy and pious way without paying heed to the westerners who are entangled in serious socio-economic-cultural and religious crisis which is the fruit of their own rash materialistic worldly deeds.

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Appendix I
The workers engaged in the garments sector have been arranged in 7 classes and other employees in 4 categories by the Wage Board in their Wage Structure 2010. Of the 4 categories of employees the MLSS id est. the 4th grade employees will get Taka 3,280 each per month. This 4th grade of employees include Peons of the Garment Factories, Guards, Cooks, Sweepers, Junior Data Entry Operators, Floor Helpers, Loader Guards, Messengers, Tea Boys, Cleaners, Drivers etcetera. Categories of Working Class by Designations
Class Grade 1 Grade 2 Grade 3 Wage in Taka per Month Pattern master, Chief quality controller, Chief 9,300 cutting master, Chief mechanic, Chief electrician, Collar master and Graphic designer Mechanic, Cutting master, Asst. Pattern master, 7,200 Asst. Collar master, Asst. Graphic designer Special machinist, Senior swing machine 4,120 operator, Senior winding machine operator, Senior knitting machine operators, Senior linking machine operator, Senior cutter, Senior quality inspector, Senior marker, Senior line leader, Senior over lock machine operator, Senior kwacha machine operator, Lay man, Senior auto cutter, Senior marker etcetera. Swing machine operator, Winding machine 3,763 operator, Knitting machine operator, Linking machine operator, Dry man, Packer, Over lock machine operator, Line leader, Auto cutter, Cad operator, Lay man, Bundling man, Rib cutter, Tag man, Printer, Quality operator etcetera. Junior swing machine operator, Junior winding 3,455 machine operator, Junior knitting machine operator, Junior linking machine operator, Junior dry man, Junior packer, Junior over lock machine operator, Junior line leader, Junior auto cutter, Junior cad operator, Junior bundling man, Junior lay man, Junior rib cutter, Junior tag man etcetera. Ordinary swing machine operator, Ordinary 3,210 Categories of Working Class

Grade 4

Grade 5

Grade 6

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Grade 7

------

winding machine operator, Ordinary printing machine operator, Ordinary linking machine operator, Ordinary auto cutter etcetera. Asst. Swing machine operator, Asst. Winding machine operator, Asst. Knitting machine operator, Asst. Madding operator, Asst. Cutter, Marker, Creasing man, Line iron man, Dry washing man, Over lock machine assistant, Button machine assistant, Kwacha machine assistant, Finishing assistant, Asst. Bundling man, Asst. Fusing machine operator, Asst. Auto spreader, Lay man, Embroidery operator, Printing operator, Printer, Helper etcetera. Apprentice

3,000

2,500

Source: The Daily Ittefaq, 58th Year, No.216, 1 August 2010. P. 13.

NOTES AND REFERENCES Notes


[Translated Qurnic verses are from The Meaning of the Glorious Koran by Mohammad Marmaduke Pickthal, 12th Printing, Published by the New American Library, New York and Toronto, modified by the author of this article, wherever necessary, following Al-Qurnul Karim, the Bengali version of Al Qurn including the original Text, published by the Islamic Foundation Bangladesh, Dhaka 1999. The Qurnic verse numbers are those of the original text. The translations, wherever made from Bengali, are the act of this author].

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