Garment Industry

Garment Industry – Among the basic elements of industrial production–man, machine and materials–managing human beings is the most complicated one. It is at the core of the matter. Unfortunately, in most of the cases, this core element does not get proper attention from the top rank in the hierarchy of a management. Like any other organisations, the activities of readymade garment factories can be divided into two key functions:

Line – those are directly involved with production, the key function of the industry and Staff – those who provide assistance to production. Read more about RMG in Bangladesh- A Study on Social Compliance

According to the wage grade (Bangladesh Gazettes in 2006, 2010, 2013 on Minimum Wage Board) employees of the readymade garments (RMG) industry are divided into two categories, a) workers – those are differentiated into seven grades (1-7) according to their skills and experiences and b) employees – who are not directly involved in production but they help in production, delivering their services, divided into four different grades (1-4). There are many other important functions which have been skipped in the wage grade.

Readymade garment is a labour-intensive industry. Proper labour management is very important for the industry as cost of wages and salaries is the single highest cost in the manufacturing process.

The aim of human resource department (HRD) in an organisation is to improve performance of the employees as well as the organisation. The main focuses of human resource department are the following:

l Selection of the right person in the right place at the right time. The HRD is to prepare job description and specification against each position and to identify the required number of employees in any particular job to avoid over staffing.

l Training and development – To provide the employees with knowledge and skills needed to do a particular task or job and to make them ready for future challenges, adapting attitude with changes.

l Organisational development – To increase effectiveness and efficiency of an organisation and well-being of its members through planned interventions applying behavioural science concepts.

l Career management – To help the individuals to make their career plans according to their skills, ability and potential.

In any discussion or in an article on the Bangladesh RMG industry without mentioning the Desh Garments Ltd (DGL), the very first factory designed for 100 per cent export, would be incomplete. The state of HRD during the last decades in our RMG industry and its status at the DGL back in 1979 can be reviewed to set a present-time benchmark for the HRD in the RMG industry. An organisation is known by its management and it performs as its members do. Organisational culture is the culture of its owners. The man behind the initiatives at the DGL then had a clear vision about the industry. Mr Noorul Quader (Khan), a valiant freedom fighter, who discarded his title ‘Khan’ in protest against the role of the Pakistani rulers during the liberation war of Bangladesh, started with a single garment factory which ultimately produced hundreds of future entrepreneurs in the industry. The standard that he engraved in the HRD in his factory back in 1979 can still be the cornerstone of the present RMG industry.

Through an advertisement in the national dailies, Mr. Quader then recruited a group of meritorious students from different disciplines from across the country.  Some of the engineers whom he had recruited had overseas degrees and a few of them had overseas job experiences. A handsome remuneration package was offered at that time to attract the future entrepreneurs in the industries. Mr Quader arranged training for all his recruited staff in South Korea for six months under joint collaboration with the Daewoo Corporation. An orientation course was conducted at the ‘Institute of Business Administration’ (IBA), the University of Dhaka, the most prestigious academic institute in the country. This single example is more than enough to justify his HR approach. The DGL produced a number of successful RMG business leaders. Unfortunately many of them did not take any lesson from Mr Quader’s HR approach.

There were many favourable conditions, both national and international, behind the ‘hockey-stick growth’ of the industry. In 1984, the number of export-oriented readymade garments factories was 384 and within a decade in 1994, that number shot up to 2,182.

The dramatic decline of jute’s share in Bangladesh’s export earnings had a huge impact on the livelihoods of poor jute growers in the country. Uncertainty of regular works for the day labourers in agriculture sector had pushed them to urban areas where many alternative sources of employments were available. At the same time, growth of the RMG sector had pulled workers from rural areas to urban centres with a strong possibility for employment there. The supply of surplus workers from villages helped in the rapid growth of the RMG factories. All these had happened when ‘human side’ of the workers was hardly in consideration.

A chronological diagram can be drawn to explain the past and present status of the HRDs in readymade garments industry in the country.

The period from the beginning until 2000,  was a heaven for the production manager and hell for the workers.

Though garment business is always positive in terms of profit, the perception of the society about the sector still remains negative on account of working environment, workers’ wage etc. Once the term ‘garment factory’ was perceived as a place where anything was possible in terms of mismanagement. Breaking all the norms, values and principles of labour rights, maximum utilisation of labour with minimum expenses/benefits was given top priority to ensure highest possible profit. Qualified and adequate number of staff used to be considered as a waste of money by the businesses. A tendency continued to run the business with minimum possible number of staffs offering them lower package, never considering their quality and hard work. It was accepted to the management if any staff engaged himself/herself in line function contributed directly to the production and helped earn some extra profits to the owner.

From the very initial stage of the industry until the compulsion of compliance, as a precondition of business, there was nothing about human resource development (HRD). To maintain the payroll, a job of time-keeper was created to record workers’ ‘in-and-out’ time and to keep record of over time (OT) work. This core activity, associated with payment, was being controlled by the production manager (PM) concerned, the then most powerful and unchallenged authority. In most of the cases, the PM and the FM (Factory Manager) was the same. Keeping behavioural approach, human psychology, legal rational demand etc aside, most of the owners were dependent on so-called managers. When dependency and authority go to the persons of less capability and capacity, abuse of power and position could appear as a regular phenomenon. Unfortunately, those incidents in our readymade garment industry gave a negative message on work environment of the industry. No restriction on workers’ age, no control of working hours, disregarding of norms and values on working condition etc took the upper hand in the industry till the year 2000. Sexual harassment, deduction of workers’ hard-earned over-time (OT) hours, marking them absent even for a five-minute late arrival as a punishment and using them as personal workers were the managers’ common weapons to control the factory administration. In many cases, workers were asked to pay a percentage of their earnings from extra overtime (EOT) duty to their bosses. Both management and workers thought that the EOT was the privilege for the workers to earn more, so those workers who maintained a good relation with their bosses only were allowed in the extra earning net. For the workers it was difficult, even three decades back, to meet very basic needs without OT work. From the selection process to duty assignment to wages determination, all the activities related to personnel management were the functions of the production manager. In the first decade of the industry, in most of the cases, the production manager himself or his trusted one was assigned to keep the record of workers’ daily attendance and working hours. So, the production manager, apart from production duties, used to control the personnel issues as well.

Mohammad Hasan