When automatic machines started to come to garment factories in Bangladesh in 2017, there was a string of protests from workers who feared they would be terminated. Though 95 percent of knitting is done by computers, no worker has been terminated.
Businesses say that automatic machines work as a supplement to manual labour.
According to a study by A2I and International Labour Organisation (ILO), due to automation, jobs of 5.38 million people are at risk. By 2041, 2.7 million or 60 percent of workers in the labour sector may lose their jobs.
In the furniture industry, 1.38 million workers, 600,000 in tourism and 100,000 workers in the leather industry may lose jobs.
Private think tank Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) states that with the spread of automation, the number of women workers in the garment sector is falling.
As per Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the manufacturing sector employed 9.5 million workers in 2013 which came down to 8.7 million in 2017.
Usually, in garments, machine is used in spinning, weaving, knitting, dyeing, printing, finishing, testing, washing and embroidery work.
Owners say that if Jacquard machine is purchased at a cost of Tk. 1.5 million, workers will be terminated.
After Jacquard machine came, many workers had to leave well-paid jobs, said the general secretary of the garment workers’ trade union, Jolly Talukdar.
“At that time, some lost work though not too many became unemployed since the operation of the factories expanded.”
In the new salary structure, one helper from two for each operator was reduced, added the general secretary.
President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association (BGMEA) Rubana Huq said: “It’s a competitive market; with the arrival of machines, some workers will lose jobs – it’s natural.”
Under the A2I project, innovative skills of workers will be increased which will be helpful, she added.
Former BGMEA president Siddikur Rahman said: “The number of automatic machines is high in textiles and low in garments. As per the BGMEA and BKMEA, the number of workers is 4.4 million.”
In sweater factories, the reliance on automatic machines is more but while some jobs have been terminated, workers did not become unemployed as they were given other posts, he added.
To raise labour skills, training is essential, said the former president.
Meanwhile, president of Bangladesh Garments Accessories and Packaging Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association Abdul Kader Khan observed: “Too many machines did not enter the accessories market; however to maintain quality, machines are needed.”