Labour rights awareness among female garment workers in Bangladesh

Fair Wear Foundation’s  8 Labour Standards form the basis for its work with members, factories, and workers. When workers are not aware of their rights, they are not empowered to claim them. Between 2012-2013, FWF conducted a survey among women workers in garment factories in Bangladesh. The 658 workers at 35 factories that were polled, provided an indicator about awareness of gender-based violence and labour rights among women workers and factory management in Bangladesh. These were the main results, for each of the labour standards.

  • Employment is freely chosen

About 60% of the workers said that they can quit their jobs and leave the factories whenever they want. Other said that they needed to meet specific requirements in order to quit. For example, one worker thought that she must work in a factory for more than 6 months before she could legally resign. A large majority, 85% of those interviewed, said that they might not get their dues if they resign. When asked about what this meant in practice, the women interviewed had different ideas. Some said that they were only entitled to their last month’s salary. Most workers were not aware that severance pay is a right, and therefore they did not know they could ask for it.

  • There is no discrimination in employment

More than half of the workers understood the concept of discrimination, and could explain what it is in their own words. Most interviewees said that men were given priority over women when it came to their work. For example, male workers get better benefits and higher wages than the female workers who do the same job. They also get higher pay increases, and can be promoted faster, if women get promoted at all. In general, women are under huge pressure to work, because they need to show they can work better than men. Often, women are not allowed bathroom breaks, or their work is looked at more closely. When there are mistakes in the work of male workers, they are generally fixed by women, while women have to re-do their own faulty work. Also, in terms of pay, the piece rates that men receive are always fixed in consultation, but women are only informed about their work after they have completed the task, so they are forced to accept the rates.

  • No exploitation of child labour

According to 77% of the respondents, the factories where they work do not employ anyone younger than 18 years old. Nevertheless, about 20% of the workers said that their factories employ workers as young as 14.

  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining

Over 98% of the interviewees did not know what a CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) is, and did not know whether they had one. In terms of awareness of unions, the workers often thought that workers participatory committees (WPC) were the same as unions.

  • Payment of a living wage:

Workers’ take-home wages ranged from 3,000 to 15,000 BDT monthly (at the time of the survey, between 33 and 166 Euros per month). The average was about 6,500 Taka, or slightly less than 75 Euros. However, more than two thirds of the respondents received lower-than-average pay. A good 56% of the workers did not receive pay slips, so they did not know how their wages were calculated.

  • Reasonable hours of work

Around 80% of the workers said that they work 11 hours or more on a daily basis, although the law in Bangladesh prescribes that overtime should be limited to less than 2 hours per day. More than 40% of those interviewed even worked more than 12 hours each day. Nearly 60% workers reported that they worked 7 days a week without a day off in compensation.


Table: 1. Length of daily working hours
Daily hours worked Percent
8 6.1
9 4.1
10 12.8
11 13.4
12 21.6
12+ 42.6
Total 100.0
  • Safe and healthy working environment

Three out of four respondents described health complaints that are potentially linked to working conditions and the nature of their work, including working hours. Headache is the most common physical difficulty mentioned by the respondents; almost half the respondents reported suffering from headaches during and after work. The second most frequently mentioned health problem is neck pain.

Regarding fire safety, although half of the interviewees said that there were fire drills in the factories, only less than 10% had had any fire safety training.

  • Legally binding employment relations

Generally respondents do not have adequate documentation of employment to back up their legal status, either because they were not issued any such documentation or have lost the documentation of employment. Only less than 40% of the interviewees said that they kept a copy of their appointment letter or contract.

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