Workers in the Bangladesh readymade garment sector started violent protests from 21st September, 2013, demanding increase in their monthly minimum wages from existing BDT 3,000 (USD 38.5) to BDT 8,100 (USD 104.0). Hundreds of workers were injured from police attack on the protestors, properties vandalised and looted, and work has been stopped in hundreds of factories in the industrial belt surrounding Dhaka for more than a week. Government had set up a minimum wage board in June this year where workers’ representatives placed their demand in August. On September 17, garment owners’ representative proposed BDT 3,600 monthly minimum wage which apparently triggered these protests.
Bangladesh is number 2 in the world apparels market (behind China) with more than USD 21 billion annual export earnings. Industry analysts expect export earnings to double in the next five years. The sector currently employs about four million workers. Eighty percent of the workers are estimated to be women.
Labour agitation in various industrial and service sectors is a regular phenomenon in Bangladesh. Apart from foreign instigations, there are real and genuine issues involving both the owners of factories and workers which need to be addressed. Wage determination, delayed and low payments, non-payments in some cases, work place safety, and formation of associations are few issues related to workers in general, while owners are concerned about security of their factory properties, taxations and extortions etc. The relationship between the workers and owners are in general exploitative, unstable and conflicting in nature under the current capitalist system. Allah سبحانه وتعالى has given specific guidelines to solve these issues so that the relationship is stable and productive. Khilafah government ensures the rights of both workers and owners resulting in peace and growth in an economy. Islamic perspectives on few basic and relevant issues are presented below based on the reality of worker-owner relationships in the current context of Bangladesh:
1. Wage determination: Hiring a worker is a contract over a benefit in return for compensation. Islam allowed the individual, garments factory owners in this case, to employ employees and labourers i.e. workers to work for him or her. Allah سبحانه وتعالى says in the noble Qur’an,
أَهُمْ يَقْسِمُونَ رَحْمَتَ رَبِّكَ نَحْنُ قَسَمْنَا بَيْنَهُمْ مَعِيشَتَهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَرَفَعْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ فَوْقَ بَعْضٍ دَرَجَاتٍ لِيَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُهُمْ بَعْضًا سُخْرِيًّا وَرَحْمَتُ رَبِّكَ خَيْرٌ مِمَّا يَجْمَعُونَ
“It is We who portion out between them their livelihood in this world, and We raised some of them above others in ranks so that some may employ others in their work….”
Shari’ah stipulates that it is necessary to define the work, the period of work, the wage and the effort in hiring a worker. Regarding wages of workers, Islam says it should be defined, due to the saying of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم:
من استأجر أجيرا فليعلمه أجره
“If anyone of you hires a worker, he has to inform him of his wage.” (Narrated by Ibn Mas’oud)
A worker’s daily calorie need is the basis upon which the minimum wage is determined in Bangladesh. This treatment is similar to that of rearing domestic animals where they are given just enough food to produce egg, milk or meat. Minimum wage also breeds certain corrupt practices. When a minimum wage is determined by the government, many employers take advantage of it where they try to employ all workers at the minimum wage. Employers have a tendency to fire skilled workers who deserve higher wages; instead they largely employ unskilled or semi-skilled workers giving them the minimum wage.
Islam rejects the capitalist concept of wage determination on the basis of the lowest or minimum standard of living. Similarly, Islam rejects communist basis of wage determination which is estimated by the production of the worker. Wage of workers in other sectors or countries or so called international minimum standard also can not be the basis. The basis upon which the wage is to be determined is the benefit, whether it is for the work or the worker. In the Islamic State, the experts will estimate the wage of the worker according to the value of this benefit in the society in which they live.
2. Timing of payment: A common practice by owners of factories is to delay payments of workers. Consequence of accumulation of payments of few months is that workers become captive. Employers argue that if they pay in full on time, workers will remain absent or leave their job. Every year before Eid holidays, workers have to demonstrate to get their due wages, overtime and festival bonus payments. Islam strictly prohibits the practice of non-payments and delayed payments. Bukhari narrated from Abu Hurairah who stated that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:
قَالَ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى ثَلَاثَةٌ أَنَا خَصْمُهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ رَجُلٌ أَعْطَى بِي ثُمَّ غَدَرَ وَرَجُلٌ بَاعَ حُرًّا فَأَكَلَ ثَمَنَهُ وَرَجُلٌ اسْتَأْجَرَ أَجِيرًا فَاسْتَوْفَى مِنْهُ وَلَمْ يُعْطِهِ أَجْرَهُ
“Allah azza wa jalla said, ‘I will be the opponent of three (types of) people on the Day of Judgement: …, and a man who hired a worker where he received (the work) from him in full and did not give him his wage.”
In another hadith, narrated by Abdullaah ibn ‘Umar, our Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said,
أَعْطُوا الْأَجِيرَ أَجْرَهُ قَبْلَ أَنْ يَجِفَّ عَرَقُهُ
“Pay the labourer his wage before his sweat dries.”
3. Safety and security: In the last one year, the collapse of Rana Plaza and fire in Tazreen Fashion has drawn global attention as thousands of workers have died and were injured. Similarly, agitated workers and provocation agents routinely damage private and public properties in the name of protests. State machineries on the other hand treat the peaceful demonstrations of workers harshly. These actions are strictly prohibited in Islam and the Islamic State will deal with any such situation in a strong manner. Islamic State is obliged to ensure the security of life including work place safety and property of its citizens. Abu Bakra reported that the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said in his khutba on the Day of Sacrifice during the Farewell Hajj,
فَإِنَّ دِمَاءَكُمْ وَأَمْوَالَكُمْ
وَأَعْرَاضَكُمْ بَيْنَكُمْ حَرَامٌ كَحُرْمَةِ يَوْمِكُمْ هَذَا فِي شَهْرِكُمْ هَذَا فِي بَلَدِكُمْ هَذَا لِيُبَلِّغ الشَّاهِدُ الْغَائِبَ
“Your blood, your property and your honour are sacred to you, like the sacredness of this day in this month in this city.” [Agreed upon]
4. Trade union: Trade unions (TUs) and collective bargaining agents (CBAs) are supposed to look after the workers right in the current system. But due to its harmful effect in the past, trade union activities in various sectors including readymade garments and export processing zones (EPZs) are restricted now. TUs and CBAs are associations based on self interest with a very narrow focus. Over the years, they have become tools for exploitation by the political parties and foreign powers. Enjoining good and forbidding evil needs to be the general agenda of any association in the Islamic State. Allah سبحانه وتعالى says,
وَلْتَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
“Let there arise out of you a group inviting to all that is good (Islam), enjoining the ma’roof (good) and forbidding the munkar (evil). And it is they who are successful.”
Therefore, associations will be allowed in general in the Khilafah state; however, trade unions with their current nature will not be allowed. In case of any injustice, a worker can always seek remedy from the court which will judge on the basis of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
5. Foreign intervention: Multilateral institutions like World Bank and IMF and foreign power like USA and EU have been directly involved in the process of policy making in the industrial sector of Bangladesh. Through various organizations like USAID, DFID etc they are currently funding many NGOs to build so-called awareness on workers rights. Also, in the name of compliance, foreign companies dictate terms and conditions on the local factory owners. Their ultimate objective is to promote industries that complements the needs of western countries; thereby making Bangladesh dependent on them in the process. They exploit the underlying real issues and provoke agitations so that industries in this country always remain vulnerable to their whims and desires. The Islamic State will never allow any foreign country, institution or company to dictate our industrial sector. Allah سبحانه وتعالى says in the noble Qur’an,
وَلَنْ يَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ لِلْكَافِرِينَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ سَبِيلًا
“And never will Allah allow the disbelievers to have authority over the believers.”
Rather, the Khilafah state will have its own agenda of building a strong economy and a strong industrial base so that it can become a super power in the world stage. Islamic State will be a strong state with a vision of ruling the whole world based on Islam. Accordingly, society, economy, politics, industry and military of the Khilafah state will be designed and developed with this vision.
In conclusion, solutions to the real life problems provided by Islam are comprehensive. We cannot take few solutions from Islam in one or two sectors and expect change in our conditions. Overall, when Islam is fully implemented under the Khilafah state, social and economic conditions will be congenial for employment and growth, free from exploitation, taxing the people and extortions of all kinds; people will be educated with necessary skills and Islamic values and all basic necessities will be ensured by the state. To live in peace and harmony in both this world and Hereafter, it is obligatory on us to establish Khilafah.
Written for The Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir by
Muhammad Raiyan Hasan
Member of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bangladesh