Dorm for Bangladesh’s female garment workers drawing flak

by Apparel Resources

01-August-2018  |  6 mins read

Bangladesh’s female garment workers

Bangladesh’s first-ever dormitory for readymade garment workers, located in Ashulia at the outskirts of capital Dhaka, has remained vacant for almost a year now, drawing cold response from the workers despite lucratively low renting facility.

The construction of dormitories for the garment workers is a long-standing demand from the workers and union leaders for low-cost accommodation in a country that is witnessing marked rise in housing costs, with the workers earning a minimum wage of BDT 5,300. In absence of such a facility, house owners in densely industrial areas like Ashulia, Tongi, Savar, Gazipur, Maona, Narayanganj, and Dhaka charge high for housing. On an average, a worker pays about 50 per cent of the monthly income as house rent.

The country’s Directorate of Women Affairs constructed the 12-storied dormitory for female garment workers at a cost of over BDT 26 crore on 1.48 acres of land in the industrial zone densely crowded with garment industries and the worker force for those factories.

There are 744 available seats for women garment workers where rooms are arranged in a barrack-like arrangement. The rooms are yet to be rented out and the authorities have only managed to check-in only 90 female workers so far.

After the completion, the Public Works Department handed over the project to the Directorate of Women Affairs for its operation and management. It intended to house single female workers within a very affordable rent of around BDT 1,000 per month, and BDT 1,200 for single working mothers with a child under the age of seven.

“The house rent was significantly low at BDT 1,000 a month. We kept the rent significantly low so that the female garment workers would book seats here. So far, we got only 90 female workers in this big building,” an official of the hostel said on condition of anonymity. The source added, “Even a day-care centre was set up in the building, but still the female workers do not want to come to this hostel.”

Apparel Resources has learned that the lowest rent in the dormitory is as low as BDT 500. But, despite this unbelievably low housing cost, the cold response is mainly due to two major factors that the top-level authorities have remained ignorant of – privacy and gas connections.

Management cramped 62 beds in each of the rooms like a big hospital ward. And what is overwhelming though, there are only 12 toilets and 12 bathrooms for the entire building – one at each floor – for use on a share basis. What’s more frustrating is that the entire building is without a gas connection, meaning that the workers would have to buy expensive gas cylinders for the daily purpose of cooking.

Sharply criticising the authorities for the lack of management, Faiezul Hakim, President of Trade Union Federation, tells Apparel Resources, “This is not how humans live. This is more like how cows are kept in commercial farm houses. For example, there is a specific ratio of how many toilets there should be. The standard is that upto 25 people can share a toilet. Therefore, there should have been at least double of what it is there now.”

He adds further, “The authorities must take into consideration the privacy issue of the workers. They should remember that these are human beings they are dealing with. It is mainly the administration that is to be blamed for the slack management of this dormitory facility. It has not become the worker welfare project that it was intended to be.”

It does not end here! Bangladesh Government is working on two similar dormitories for garment workers – one in Kalurghat area of port city Chittagong, and another in Bandar area, Narayanganj city – both of which are expected to be completed by 2020.

Mujibul Haque Chunnu, State Minister for Labour and Employment, inaugurated the construction work of six-storeyed dormitory in Chittagong, which is being implemented at a cost of BDT 55 crore on 1.1 acre of land with the aim of housing 960 female garment workers, on July 27, 2018. It is expected to have a five-bed hospital-like facility.

Earlier on July 7, he inaugurated work of nine-storeyed dormitory in Narayanganj – which aims to accommodate 700 female garment workers. It will also be equipped with a five-bed hospital-like facility that will treat workers at the lowest cost possible.

“These dormitories must follow the examples of college or university dormitories that are built everywhere – that house maximum four people in a room – if the authorities truly want it to turn out as a worker-welfare project,” Faiezul Hakim adds. He goes, “The authorities have to take up the responsibility of the workers and their wellbeing, and not post some show-off projects as an eyewash.”

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