The Bangladesh government on Tuesday announced a 56.25% increase in the minimum monthly wage for its four million garment workers, a decision that unions immediately rejected and demanded almost triple the figure.
The country’s apparel factories make up about 85% of its $55 billion annual exports, supplying some of the world’s leading fashion brands such as Levi’s, Zara and H&M. However, conditions are dire for many workers, most of whom are women whose monthly wages start at 8,300 taka ($75).
In response to low wages, workers have gone on strike demanding almost triple their wages, which recently led to violent clashes. Employers initially offered a 25% increase in salaries. The minimum wage is set by a state-appointed board consisting of representatives from manufacturers, unions, and wage experts.
Board Secretary Raisha Afroz announced that the new minimum monthly wage for garment factory workers has been set at 12,500 taka ($113). However, this figure was immediately rejected by the unions, who were demanding a minimum wage of Taka 23,000.
Unions argue that their members have been badly hit by persistent inflation, which reached nearly 10% in October, and the rising cost of living, partly due to a nearly 30% decline in the taka against the US dollar since the beginning of last year. Is in serious trouble.
Kalpona Ekter, 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 meets every five years, and in 2018, it raised the basic minimum from Tk 5,000 to Tk 8,000. Apart from the basic minimum wage, textile workers also receive at least Tk 300 per month as attendance fee.
Tension over this decision led to violence, with police firing tear gas at thousands of workers and setting a bus on fire outside Dhaka. Last week, about 600 factories making clothes for major Western brands were closed, and some vandalized as part of the worst wage protests in a decade.
The protests also coincide with violent demonstrations by opposition parties demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ahead of elections in January.