Bangladesh’s highest export earnings depend on the RMG sector, but workers’ livelihood problems are still less recognized. The minimum wage for RMG workers in Bangladesh is lower than in competitive countries.
Workplace safety was a major concern for the RMG industry in Bangladesh as the government, NGOs, CSOs, brands, and buyers are engaged in promoting workplace safety and compliance in the RMG sector, which has now given priority to workplace safety and health compliance in the RMG sector. However, general health, wellness, and quality of life have been largely neglected.
BRAC, the country’s largest NGO, has taken the initiative to provide a one-stop service to improve the well-being of more than 50,000 RMG workers. BRAC conducts extensive welfare activities through three One-Stop Service Centers (OSSCs) located at Tongi, Gazipur, and Savar.
BRAC’s OSSC services ensure quality healthcare, legal aid, skills development training, employment, and financial services (such as mobile banking, DPS, and health insurance) for RMG workers in Bangladesh.
Under BRAC’s Urban Development Program and in partnership with 30 RMG factories, city authorities, and life insurance companies, OSSC services improve their livelihoods by ensuring access to affordable basic services, safe and productive livelihoods, affordable and safe housing, and climate change resilience.
BRAC’s skills development program has a significant impact on employment in Bangladesh. The minimum wage for RMG workers in Bangladesh is not enough to survive in this high price market.
The OSSC Services Skills Development Program creates skilled manpower so that employees can be recruited with efficiency and adequate remuneration. Skill development programs have been effective in creating a gateway for migrant workers in the RMG sector.
Nasrin Akter Shoshi, Lead Trainer, BRAC OSSC, said, “People have responded well to this training and the factory owners also believe that these workers have become good performers in their production.”
After this training, the workers are paid more than the minimum wage. So far, 2,348 have received skills training from BRAC’s OSSC services and 95% of them have employment opportunities.
The trainees of the OSSC service said that after a physical, mental, and financial hardship, people in their community are now getting jobs and have started saving money for a better life.
However, employment is losing its stability. More than half of the RMG workers were laid off during the epidemic. BRAC offers DPS (Deposit Premium Scheme) for workers as a general endowment plan with a monthly deposit of only BDT 100.
BRAC has contributed BDT 100 to that DPS for one year to motivate the employees. Now 5,001 RMG workers are registered in DPS. Also, in the industry, there is too much safety and inadequate healthcare.
BRAC has reached 31,090 people through its healthcare services. Healthcare services are becoming more expensive. Every day workers can get free healthcare at the OSSC center. OSSC centers run seven days a week.
Musharraf, a garment worker, said the OSSC’s healthcare was a life-saver for him because he could not afford the high-cost healthcare benefits. BRAC offers Health Com Life Insurance with annual health coverage up to BDT 20,000. Insurance includes hospital room accommodation, ICU / CCU / HDU care, medical examinations, and surgical charges.
The rate of women workers in the RMG industry has dropped drastically from 80-70 percent to 50-60 percent. Less healthcare and childcare are keeping women out of the workplace.
OSSC services are helping these women overcome these problems through healthcare and childcare. Now, 23 children of RMG workers stay at the OSSC daycare center while their parents go to work.
OSSC service centers are now becoming a symbol of hope for the workers. Most women in Bangladesh are victims of domestic violence due to dowry. Many women are forced to work to make a living in the family. There are already 3.6 million criminal cases pending in Bangladeshi courts, so most women cannot get adequate legal assistance.
Shahnaz Begum, a victim of domestic violence due to dowry, shared her story with Textile today. She tried to sue her husband but was unable to do so due to unawareness of the process and discomfort with the court and lawyers. BRAC provides legal assistance to these women.
Legal aid services have had a positive effect on changing the behavior of beneficiaries seeking legal aid. BRAC’s local campaign inspired her to receive OSSC services. Now she has got her dowry money back and got a job to survive.
BRAC’s awareness campaign for OSSC services reached 8,838 RMG employees and 24,335 RMG employees through 86 peer educator events. 90% of the workers of FGD (focus group discussion) respondents agreed that they chose OSSC because of its close location and low cost of various services.
In addition, the OSSC service is available online through the Maya app on health, legal, psychosocial counseling, and COVID-19-related safety awareness and childhood day-care benefits. SK Mojibul Huq, program Manager of Urban Development of BRAC said, “OSSC centers have achieved the goal of providing a better life for RMG workers and with the help of policymakers and more awareness, this project can impact more workers”.