BGMEA point comes under fireSajia Afrin and Muktasree Chakma Sathi
The contention of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association that 24 weeks maternity leave for female workers of garment industry would increase birth rate in the country came under fire from labour and civil society leaders.
They said such ‘uncivilised and indecent’ remarks of the BGMEA clearly proved that the RMG entrepreneurs had no intention to protect the health of their female workers and their children.
The labour and civil society leaders further alleged that the RMG factory owners were not sensible enough to ensure their workers’ basic rights, particularly the right to maternity leave.
According to media reports, the BGMEA stated that the apex body of the garments makers and exporters had recently submitted their opinion on maternity leave to the labour ministry for consideration.
In the submission BGMEA observed that ‘introduction of 24-week maternity leave, instead of 16 weeks, will encourage higher birth rate negating the population control programme of the country.’
The submission of BGMEA came just after the labour ministry suggested to amend the Section 46 of the Labour Act 2006 which if enacted would give the private workers a right to enjoy 24 weeks maternity leave.
The public sectors workers are already entitled to enjoy six months maternity leave.
The BGMEA also proposed introducing 12 weeks or 84 days of maternity leave for female workers in the garments industries citing the example of India, Nepal and Indonesia and said it would keep pace in production in the sector.
Criticising the proposal, health experts said that it would be discriminatory if in the same country women engaged in workforce would
enjoy two types of maternity leave.
Rashied-e-Mahbub, a former president of Bangladesh Medical Association, said, ‘This will be a glaring example of discrimination if it is implemented.’
He mentioned that there is no relation between ensuring maternity leave and encouragement in reproduction. ‘It is a lame excuse,’ he added.
Sultan Uddin Ahmed, assistant executive director of Bangladesh Institutes of Labour Studies also pointed out that Section 46(2) of the Labour Law 2006 which says ‘no women shall be entitled to such benefit if she has at the time of delivery, two or more children.’
‘So there is no point to claim that 24 weeks maternity leave will encourage the workers to have more and more children,’ Sultan said.
When his attention was drawn to BGMEA citing the example of women workers in India, Nepal and Indonesia who are entitled to have less than 24 weeks maternity leave, Sultan said, ‘Well, if they (BGMEA) want to follow those countries, they should follow them in paying wages… will they provide the same wages to the Bangladeshi garments workers as those countries do?’
SK Roy, chairperson of Bangladesh Breast-feeding Foundation told New Age that it was always advisable to keep a newborn child as close to the mother as possible.
He said, ‘Breastfeeding is absolutely essential for physical and mental development of a baby,’
World Health Organisation calls for exclusive breast-feeding which means the baby ought to have nothing but breast milk up to six months from birth.
Roy said that it was through breast-feeding that attachment grows between a mother and a baby. If a child grows uncared for he/she could be peevish, he said.
He also pointed out that no mother could concentrate at work if she leaves her baby at home. ‘Thus short period of maternity leave would rather affect the factory productivity.’
When the country is going to take such welfare step like raising the period of maternity leave for mothers to ensure nutrition of the babies, the BGMEA should not take backward steps, SK Roy observed.
He said the BBF would pursue with the government as well as BGMEA to raise the maternity leave period for the female workers.
Women rights activists Farah Kabir, who is also the country director of ActionAid Bangladesh, told New Age that there is no logic behind such proposal of BGMEA.
‘Is there any survey which pointed out that longer maternity leave resulted in increasing the birth rate of any country in the world?’ Farah asked.
‘They (working mothers) should be entitled to what they deserve,’ she added.
When contacted, BGMEA president Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, however, said, ‘It is not affordable for a poor country like ours to provide six months maternity leave to the workers.’
He said that it would not be possible to ensure exclusive breast feeding by providing six months maternity leave to female workers in the country.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a programme arranged to mark the World Breastfeeding Week on August 7, 2011, had urged the private sector employers to implement six-month maternity leave for their staff.
‘It is very unfortunate that many private sector employers do not allow six-month maternity leave to the expectant mothers working in their organisations, though all the government offices have already implemented it,’ she was quoted to have said.
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