What the papers say

Workers Wages Were Set To Increase

A weekly round up of articles about employment, the labour market, skills training and workforce development. This week’s round up is drawn from The Daily Star. Here is the news for the week ending 7th January 2021. Welcome back!

A field of jute in Bangladesh.

This Week in the Bangladesh English News…

…manufacturers and garment workers debated whether legally-mandated wage increases for workers should take effect. State-owned sugar mills seek to avoid the same fate as the recently-closed jute mills. And the World Bank identified the key barriers to adopting cashless payments.

Education and Labour Market

The annual five-percent increase in the wages of garment workers was cause for debate as the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) lobbied the labour ministry for a two-year suspension of the wage increases. Union leaders fought back arguing workers are already face reduced hours and reduced incomes. The annual wage increase for garment workers was adopted into labour law in 2013.

Demands for the reopening of state-owned jute mills, closed 2 July 2020, continued this week as a workers’ council suggested the Government of Bangladesh take up a 2016 Chinese government proposal for investment in the public sector. The state’s 25 jute mills were closed in July because they were operating at a loss, and at the time, state officials said the mills would be modernised and reopened. In separate remarks, representatives of employees at the state-owned sugar mills demanded the government invest in the sugar mills, which continue to operate at a loss.

Expatriates can now return to Saudi Arabia because kingdom authorities ended a two-week suspension of all international flights. The suspension started 21 December following the discovery of a more infectious strain of Covid-19 in the United Kingdom, and affected some 5,200 passengers according to Biman Bangladesh Airlines CEO. Since September, when Saudi Arabic first resumed international flights, thousands of Bangladesh migrant workers have returned to work in Saudi Arabia.

Financial Services

The stimulus loan fund for large industrial and service sectors is more than 90 percent dispersed, but the disbursement of loans for other sectors lags far behind. “The country now faces a K-shaped recovery,” said Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh, referring to when, after a recession, different sectors in the economy do not recover equally. This week, the central bank allowed banks an additional three months to disburse the remaining funds for the cottage, micro, small and medium enterprise (CMSME) sector – an estimated 50 percent of the CMSME fund remains undisbursed.

The World Bank published a study of digital wage payments among factory workers in Bangladesh. Titled “Learning to navigate a new financial technology”, the working paper names three main challenges to the adoption of cashless payments: (a) employees distrust the technology (b) many workers do not have the necessary documentation to open an account and (c) some employers may want to avoid the transparency of digital payrolls.

Business, Investments, Trade and Growth

Average inflation in Bangladesh was 5.69 percent during the 2020 calendar year, a three-year high. However, the trend reversed direction at the end of the year; in December, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) decreased to 5.29 percent, its lowest level since February 2017. This fiscal year, the government has set a target of 5.4 percent inflation.

Increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) remains a priority: The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida) and Standard Chartered Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding concerning future collaboration on marketing and trade exchange initiatives to attract FDI. The first initiative under the guidance of this partnership will be the China-Bangladesh Investment Summit, scheduled to be held 25 January. Meanwhile, the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) hosted a virtual event, “DCCI Business Conclave 2021”, attended by foreign and domestic diplomats and business leaders. Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen spoke at the event: “We [the foreign affairs ministry] have introduced the economic diplomacy needed to attract more FDIs.”

The Bangladesh Garments Manufacturer and Exporter Association will consult with the U.S.-based law firm Sidley Austin LLP to advance the sector’s interest in securing duty-free benefits to the European Union extended after Bangladesh graduates from least developed countries (LDCs) status. The services will be pro bono, according to Rubana Huq, president of BGMEA.

Farmers and Agriculture

To stabilize the rising price of rice, the government continues to import rice and greenlight permissions for the private sector traders to import the grain as well.

The Indian government lifted an export ban on onions, and imports of onions crossed into Bangladesh, dropping market prices dramatically. Consequently, some farmers are worried: the government has encouraged increased onion cultivation in recent years, but they fear they may have to sell their crop harvested March through May below the cost of production.

Other News

Road safety advocacy group Nirapad Sarak Chai attributed a decrease in road crashes last year to Covid-19 restrictions. Among the total number of accidents, the proportion of bike accidents increased. To curb bike accidents, Ilias Kanchan, chairman of the road safety movement, proposed safety measures such as restricting use of bikes by teens and enforcing licensing.

Covid-19 Update:

  • Recorded cases reached an eight-month low
  • The drug regulatory authority in Bangladesh approved the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine, and the government of Bangladesh made the first payment to its supplier, the Serum Institute of India. Now the local contractor Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd can begin importing the shots.
  • Bangladesh pharmaceutical company Globe Biotech Ltd. received government approval to begin clinical trials for its coronavirus vaccine.