Bangladesh garment manufacturers raise workers’ pay amid violent clashes with police
Bangladesh’s Commerce Minister says garment manufacturers have agreed to raise workers’ pay, urging people to return to work after a week of violent demonstrations.
- In September, the Government said the minimum wage would rise to $132 a month
- Bangladeshi garment makers have been protesting for a week and have been clashing with police
- Factory owners, union leaders and officials have agreed to raise wages across six of the seven pay grades
Last week at least one worker was killed and dozens were wounded during protests over salaries, prompting the Government to form a panel of factory owners, union leaders and government officials to investigate the pay demands.
On Sunday at least 20 people were hurt in further clashes between protesters and police outside Dhaka.
All parties involved agreed to raise wages across six of the seven pay grades, leaving the minimum wages unchanged at 8,000 taka ($132) a month, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi told reporters after a meeting of the panel.
Low wages and trade deals with Western countries have made the sector a $30 billion industry accounting for 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s exports, making it the world’s second-biggest garment exporter behind China.
Safe working conditions for garment makers in Bangladesh have been notoriously lax, gaining global attention with the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013.
Besides troubling working conditions, Bangladeshi workers are not guaranteed the minimum wage, with some employers simply failing to abide by legislation.
The Rana Plaza collapse was one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, claiming over 1,100 lives. (Reuters)
Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), had threatened to cut off workers’ pay if they did not return to work.
“If you don’t return to your work by tomorrow, you will not be paid any wages and we will shut down factories for an indefinite period,” he said.
“Despite repeated assurance of meeting the demands, the workers are being incited to create unrest. We will not allow this anymore.”
The revised wages are effective from December and will be adjusted from January, Mr Munshi said.
At least 20 people were hurt on Sunday when police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse workers blocking a major highway in the Ashulia garment manufacturing belt, on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka, according to Saminur Rahman, a director for the Industrial Police, which patrols the country’s business hubs.
The protests are a test for the Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who just won a third straight term in a December 30 election, making her the longest-serving leader in Bangladesh’s history.
The vote was marred by violence and allegations of widespread rigging and voter intimidation.
The Government said in September that the minimum wage for garment workers would increase by up to 51 per cent to 8,000 taka ($132.44) a month, payable in January, the first increase since 2013.
But union leaders say that increase will benefit only a small percentage of workers in the garment sector, which employs 4 million out of the country’s 165 million people.
“Most of the workers do not want vandalism. They want to work. They don’t want their factories are closed,” said Mr Munshi.
“I hope they will join work peacefully.”