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Testimony of a Bangladeshi Garment Worker

June, 15 2010 Share

My name is Shana K--.  I am 18 years old and work as a sewing operator at the Meridian Garments factory.  I started working three years ago at several different sewing factories.

My duty at Meridian starts at 8:00 a.m. and regularly ends at 10:00 p.m. or 12:00 midnight.  There are also 14 to 15 all-night shifts [per month] to 3:00 a.m.  Management allows workers to leave at 8:00 p.m., to go home at eat supper and rest before starting the night shift at 10:00 p.m.  I don’t get any weekly day off.  On Saturdays, management allows us to leave work at 8:00 p.m.  On average, we can enjoy just one day off in two or three months.  I studied up to the 9th grade, but unfortunately, could not continue my studies due to financial hardship.

My salary is 3,100 taka ($44.60) a month, but I can earn 5,000-6,000 taka ($71.94 - $86.33) including overtime work.  We work an average of 5 or 6 hours of overtime each day and the rate for OT duty is 22 taka (32 cents) per hour.  I haven’t married yet.  We are only two in our family.  My father died when I was nine years old.  I have one brother, who lives in a village with my uncle.  He is studying in the 9th grade.  My mom has been living with me.  My mother is also working in a garment factory at Savar, as a sewing operator.  She is earning 4,000-5,000 taka ($57.55-$71.94) per month including overtime duty.  Often we get paid late.

We have rented one small room in the Mirpur neighborhood, which costs 1,500 taka ($21.58).  The house is very simple, made of corrugated iron sheets.  Inside the house it is very hot.  There is some garbage around the house which smells bad.  We rented this house a few months ago since it was too difficult to pay the 2,600 taka ($37.41) rent for our old room.  We have a single wooden bed, a mirror, a hanger for keeping clothes and a rack for keeping plates and glasses.

For the two of us, we spend 5,000 taka ($71.94) a month for the simplest food.  We eat rice three times a day with mashed or fried potatoes, or other kinds of vegetables and lentils.  We can eat fish just once a week and meat or cheap broiler chicken just one day a month.  The prices of all commodities have increased more than 100 percent in the last two or three years, but our salary has not increased at all.  We have to spend 2,500 taka ($25.97) a month for my brother for his education and other costs.  My uncle takes care of him, but we have to provide the expenditures for his education, food, clothing, etc.

We have no opportunity for recreation or entertainment.  There is a 17 inch black and white television, but we cannot manage the time to watch it.  When we return home, it is around 11:00 p.m. or 12:00 midnight.  When we return from the factory, we have to cook food and we eat supper at midnight. We have no energy to watch TV then.  My mom has one day off per week on Fridays.  When relatives from our village visit our room, they usually come on Fridays.

We have to spend 2,500 taka ($35.97) for medical treatment.  My mom is 45 years old.  She became very weak after she suffered an electric shock about three years ago.  She needs medicines regularly that cost more than 1,500 ($21.58) per month.  My mother is planning to arrange a marriage for me after two years from now.  But we need to save 70,000 to 100,000 taka ($1,007 - $1,439) for arranging this marriage, for ornaments and the feast for guests.

There is also no security in our life.  We do not have any health insurance.  A few months back when I was coming from the factory at 12:00 midnight with my pay, some thieves attacked me and grabbed all my wages.  I cried out that we are very poor and will starve without this money, but the robbers did not pay heed to me.

I walk to the factory, but my mother takes the bus to the factory.  For transportation, she needs to spend 1,000 taka ($14.39) a month.

Due to our poor income, our lives are gradually getting ruined.  We are trapped living in a small room with no facilities.  There are only two gas burners, one toilet and one water pump for five families.  So we have to wait in a queue for cooking or using the toilet.  The bed we use is very uncomfortable, but we cannot buy a better one due to the shortage of money.

My brother is living far from us with my uncle in our village back home.  We cannot bring him to live with us as the expenditure for education is much higher in Dhaka and we would need to rent a larger room if he comes.  We have a small piece of land in our village, but there is no house.  We had to sell our house after the death of my father. The food we are consuming every day is very poor.  If the minimum wage is raised to 6,200 taka ($89.21) my wage would be higher, including overtime, and as a result we could eat fish once or twice a week and meat once a week.  A wage increase would help us take care of our health.  Right now we are always anxious about whether we can manage money to buy food or for medical treatment.  We have never been able to save money for the future.  In fact, we sometimes have to borrow money just to eat or for medicine.  In truth, we live just from hand to mouth.