Some 39 per cent of the female garment workers, interviewed in a survey, get monthly wage below Tk 5,300, while almost cent per cent of them have to work for 10 hours a day on an average.
Besides, 30 per cent of the workers feel insecure in their workplace due to factory structure and inadequate emergency exits, and 55 per cent responded that their rights are violated due to absence of trade union.
However, about 60 to 70 per cent ready-made garment (RMG) workers said their well-being has improved, and they can take part in decision-making in different issues of their family.
The findings were disclosed at the launching ceremony of a research book titled 'Vulnerable Empowerment: Capabilities and Vulnerabilities of Female Garments Workers in Bangladesh." It is jointly authored by Zahidul Arefin Choudhury, Samina Lutfa and Kaberi Gayen.
The survey was conducted on some 1,024 female garment workers in sweater, knit and woven factories.
Renowned economist and former caretaker government advisor Dr Wahiduddin Mahmud was present as the chief guest in the programme.
Executive director of Institute for Inclusive Finance and Development Dr Mustafa K Mujeri, senior research fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies Dr Nazneen Ahmed, and president of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad Ayesha Khanam, among others, spoke on the occasion.
The speakers said though the RMG industry has created employment opportunities for a large number of female workers and thus brought both economic and social changes in their life and livelihood, many risk factors have undermined the progress.
Mr Mahmud said an exceptional process of women empowerment takes place in the garment sector, which is also a positive change not only for their life and livelihood but also for overall situation.
"The overall situation has improved, but the progress is not much due to some risk factors."
Women get lower wages compared to their male counterparts, not only in RMG sector but also in agricultural and construction sectors, and the disparity is visible in RMG sector, he also said.
Mr Mahmud stressed on enhancing productivity through training. Factory owners know that training can improve productivity, but they do not take any long-term plan (in this regard), he opined.
"They are more interested in increasing working hours rather than increasing productivity in absence of employment security like appointment letter," he added.
Mr Mujeri said the RMG industry has brought both social and economic changes in the women's life, especially the rural ones.
The research book has its strength and limitations, and it describes both personal and workplace vulnerabilities, which is very important, he noted.
Not only RMG workers are vulnerable to some risk factors, he said, stressing portraying real vulnerability-coping capacity of the female workers in line with their capabilities and empowerment.
Mr Mujeri said economic empowerment is not adequate to change all and get rid of the vulnerabilities, and focused on bringing the issues to the mainstream and changing mindset.
He also suggested giving details on how workplace vulnerability creates personal vulnerability.
Ms Nazneen Ahmed recommended comparison with some other sectors, like - pharmaceuticals, to get a comprehensive picture regarding how garment industry really help those female workers to be empowered.
There are many statistics and figures in the research book, she said, suggesting explanation of those.