The use of automation and advanced technology would rise massively soon in Bangladesh, says Dr Abdur Razzaque
Experts at a virtual dialogue on Tuesday said though there is huge potential to boost the country’s apparel export in future, the employment generation would be shrunk in the readymade garment (RMG) sector due to the growing use of automation in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) era.
Since the RMG sector will go through a massive change in the next seven to eight years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Bangladesh’s graduation into a developing country. So, it is time to prepare the sector, particularly its workers by upskilling and reskilling them, for the changed future, they said.
Citizen’s Platform for SDGs Bangladesh and Christian Aid Bangladesh jointly arranged the dialogue titled “Bangladesh’s RMG Sector and Workers: Anticipating the Future” in a virtual platform.
Dr Abdur Razzaque, chairman of Research and Policy Integration for Development (RAPID), said Bangladesh uses some 140 workers to make readymade garments of $1 million, But China and Vietnam use only 48 workers and India and Cambodia use 75 workers.
“So, the use of automation and advanced technology would rise massively soon in Bangladesh. That means our apparel export will be increased by $30-40 billion in future, but the sector may not generate new employments,” he said.
Dr Razzaque, also director of Policy Research Institute (PRI), said Bangladesh has a lot of opportunities to export RMG goods to the European Union, the UK and the US in future.
Prof Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said the workers fell into various uncertainties due to the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.
So, the state, garment entrepreneurs and worker leaders, researchers and civil society will have to lead collectively to ensure the rights of workers, he said putting emphasis on strengthening coordination among the labour unions.
Convenor of Citizen’s Platform Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, who presided over the dialogue, said the RMG sector is going through changes centring 3Ps – product, production and productivity. The handling 3Ps would be a big matter for Bangladesh in future, he said.
“Now Bangladesh should pay its utmost attention to the workers in the changing situation,” he said adding that the real income and non-wage benefits of workers, education and health of the future workforce will be taken into consideration giving focus on the women worker.
Dr Debapriya said it is essential to create an emergency fund for the workers to bring them under a universal social protection coverage in any difficult time.
Prof Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow of CPD, said the RMG sector will go through a radical change in the next seven to eight years.
“The country’s apparel sector can’t survive in the global completion without going for automation and modernization,” he said.
Bangladesh needs to promote the light engineering sector to generate new employment in future, he said.
Former BGMEA president Dr Rubana Huq said the light engineering sector has a huge potential. “So, it is high time for us to make investment in the light engineering sector. We should design a mid-term plan, not long-term plan over how we can go to the light engineering sector,” she added.
Dr Rubana Huq put emphasis on the preparation for the potential changes in the RMG sector in the 4IR era.
Towfiqul Islam Khan, Senior Research Fellow of CPD, presented the report of a study conducted over 500 RMG workers’ households in four districts – Dhaka, Chittagong, Gazipur and Narayanganj — in June last focusing the workers’ dealing with the aftermath of Covid-19.
During the first wave, two-third of the workers did not receive the salaries on time and even woven and sweater factories struggled more in paying dues to workers, according to the study.
Besides, more than half of the RMG workers experienced reduction in overtime during the first wave compared to the pre-Covid period, said the study.