DHAKA–Bangladesh garment manufacturers have agreed to a US$68 minimum monthly wage for the country’s four million garment workers after days of labor unrest forced the closure of hundreds of factories, officials said. The agreement came after the manufacturers met the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, Wednesday night when she “ordered” them to implement the new wages recommended by the government’s Minimum Wage Board panel. The panel voted to raise the minimum salaries to 5,300 taka (US$68) from 3,000 taka this month following a series of disasters in garment factories that highlighted appalling labor conditions and poor wages in thousands of plants, many of which make clothing for the world’s top retailers. But the owners dragged their feet, saying it would be impossible for most factories to ratify the panel’s decision, arguing that Bangladesh workers were less productive while the Western retailers were not keen to raise order prices in line with the pay hike. The manufacturers had demanded the new minimum wages be fixed at 4,500 taka, but labor secretary Mikail Shipar said they changed their minds after meeting Prime Minister at her office. “During the meeting, the Prime Minister ordered them to implement the new minimum wages of 5,300 taka (US$68) from December. And they’ve agreed to implement the pay hike,” he told AFP. The new wages would still make Bangladeshi garment workers some of the lowest paid in the textile sector across the world.
Pro-government unions have accepted the US$68 minimum wage, but left-leaning labor groups have rejected the new salaries, saying they were too far below their original demand.
Tens of thousands of workers clashed with police in some of the country’s key industrial hubs this week, demanding a US$100 minimum wages. Hundreds of factories were forced to close while scores of people were injured after police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the protesting workers.
Reaz-Bin Mahmood, a vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said they now hoped the workers would return to their factories. “We have accepted the wage board decision following the Prime Minister’s request. But it’ll be difficult for many of us to raise the wages, if the Western retailers don’t hike order prices by 10-15 percent,” he told AFP. He added the owners had also decided to open all 257 factories in the key Ashulia industrial area from Thursday.
Protests over poor wages, benefits and working conditions are frequent in Bangladesh, the world’s second largest apparel exporter, but have gained intensity since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in April, which killed 1,135 people.