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Govt should not act like businessmen: Akbar Ali PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Agency

Regulatory Reforms Commission Chairman Akbar AliThe government should act as the custodian of the people, rather than acting like "businessmen", Regulatory Reforms Commission chairman Akbar Ali Khan said Monday.

Addressing a roundtable on poverty reduction and workers' social security issues, the former adviser said the inflation rate actually experienced by the poor was as high as 40 percent.

He added that it was regrettable that the government always cited the increasing price of food in international market for their failure to contain domestic costs.

Speakers at the roundtable, organised by the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, said proper wages, pension funds, medical care and lack of compensation for accidents are hindering social security for the country's labour force,.

The speakers agreed that the country's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) could not work until proper wages for 40 million workers were ensured by fixing a benchmark.

The five-year strategy plan for reducing poverty expired in 2007, with the caretaker government announcing to extend it until the next one is drafted.

"The two fundamentals for the PRSP are employment and social security," said the RRC chairman.

Akbar Ali claimed the caretaker administration's social security programmes failed to meet the challenges posed by the economic conditions prevailing in the country.

"For instance, the minimum wage for garment workers has been set at Tk 1,650 per month."

"I think, and I'm sure all of you would agree, that at least Tk 3,000 is needed to just barely survive in a city like Dhaka," said the RRC chairman.

Akbar Ali went on to criticise the interim government for claiming the unemployment rate was as low as 4 percent.

"If that is true then I have to say there is no unemployment in Bangladesh, as it is higher in many countries in Europe and the US," he said.

The former adviser said the inflation rate actually experienced by the poor was as high as 40 percent.

"The inflation rate is calculated from the prices of many commodities along with food items."

"But the poor are only concerned about food, and considering that, I would have to say inflation is not less than 30 percent," Akbar told reporters following the discussion.

"The government should act as the custodian of the people, rather than acting like businessmen," he said.

Syed Sultan Ahmed, additional executive director of BILS, in his keynote presentation at the roundtable said that a lack of proper wages, pension funds, compensation for accidents and medical care are hindering workers' social security.

"Ensuring workers' social security would enable equal distribution of resources in society while cushioning low income families from risks. This would play a key role in poverty reduction," the BILS official said.

He focused on a realistic standard of wage structure saying that there is no specific benchmark for workers' wages.

"Government has set the minimum wage at Tk 1500 per month which works out at Tk 50 a day. On the other hand, rice is now priced at Tk 35 per kg. We all wonder based on what this wage rate has been fixed," Ahmed added.

He said that government's social security schemes such as allowances for widows, old age people does not cover the working class and suggested provisions of mandatory workers funds, gratuity and insurance for every factory and medical care and education for workers' dependants.

Representatives of workers' bodies at the meeting called on the caretaker government to strengthen trade unions and collective bargaining facilities, while they promised the creation of a more constructive trade union environment.

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