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Bangladesh garment workers reject 56% raise, demand near-tripling of wage

The average monthly salary for a garment worker in Bangladesh is 8,000 taka ($96). —Reuters

Bangladesh government Tuesday announced to raise the minimum monthly wage for its four million garment workers by 56.25%, a decision that has been immediately rejected by unions seeking a near-tripling of the figure.

The country’s garment factories constitute around 85% of its $55 billion in annual exports, supplying some of the world’s leading fashion brands like Levi’s, Zara, and H&M. However, conditions for many of the workers are dire, with the vast majority being women whose monthly pay starts at 8,300 taka ($75).

In response to the low wages, workers have gone on strike to demand a near-tripling of their wages, leading to recent violent clashes. Employers had initially offered a 25% increase in wages. The minimum wage is determined by a state-appointed board, which includes representatives from manufacturers, unions, and wage experts.

The board secretary, Raisha Afroz, announced that the new minimum monthly wage for garment factory workers had been fixed at 12,500 taka ($113). However, this figure was immediately rejected by the unions, which had been demanding a minimum wage of 23,000 taka.

Unions argue that their members have been severely affected by persistent inflation, reaching nearly 10% in October, and a cost of living crisis partly triggered by the taka depreciating by about 30% against the US dollar since early last year. 

Kalpona Akter, the head of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, called the decision “unacceptable” and “below our expectations.”

The panel responsible for setting the minimum wage typically convenes every five years, and in 2018, it raised the basic minimum from 5,000 taka to 8,000 taka. In addition to the basic minimum wage, garment workers also receive at least 300 taka per month as an attendance fee.

Tensions surrounding this decision have led to violence, with police firing tear gas at thousands of workers who set a bus on fire outside Dhaka. Last week, around 600 factories that produce clothing for major Western brands were closed, and some were ransacked as part of the worst wage protest in a decade. 

The protests have also coincided with violent demonstrations by opposition parties demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ahead of elections scheduled for January.

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