Bangladesh raises wages amid protests
Bangladesh raised wages for garment workers on Sunday following a week of demonstrations calling for higher salaries, the country’s commerce minister said.
The protests, which led to clashes with police that killed one worker and wounded dozens more, pushed the Bangladesh government to form a panel of factory owners, union leaders and officials to consider the demand for higher pay, Reuters reported.
All parties involved agreed to raise wages across 6 of the 7 pay grades, leaving the minimum wages unchanged at 8,000 taka ($95), Minister of Commerce Tipu Munshi told reporters after a meeting of the panel.
Thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers churning out clothes for top global brands walked off the job Sunday and clashed with police.
Police said water cannons and tear gas were fired to disperse huge crowds of striking factory workers in Savar, a garment hub just outside the capital Dhaka.
“The workers barricaded the highway, we had to drive them away to ease traffic conditions,” industrial police director Sana Shaminur Rahman told AFP about Sunday’s strike action.
“So far 52 factories, including some big ones, have shut down operations due to the protests.”
Bangladesh is dependent on garments stitched by millions of low-paid tailors on factory floors across the emerging South Asia economy of 165 million people.
Roughly 80 percent of its export earnings come from clothing sales abroad, with global retailers H&M, Primark, Walmart, Tesco and Aldi among the main buyers.
Union leader Aminul Islam blamed factory owners for resorting to violence to control striking workers.
The protests were the first major test for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since winning a fourth term in December 30 elections marred by violence, thousands of arrests and allegations of vote rigging and intimidation.
Late Sunday, the government announced a pay hike for mid-level factory workers after meeting with manufacturers and unions. Not all unions have signaled they will uphold the agreement.
Babul Akhter, a union leader present at the meeting, told AFP the deal should appease striking workers.
“They should not reject it, and peacefully return to work,” he told AFP.
Bangladesh’s 4,500 textile and clothing factories shipped more than $30 billion worth of apparel last year.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association, which wields huge political influence, warned all factories might be shut if tailors do not return to work immediately.
Last year Bangladesh was the secondlargest global apparel exporter after China. It has ambitious plans to expand the sector into a $50 billion a year industry by 2023.
But despite their role in transforming the impoverished nation into a major manufacturing hub, garment workers remain some of the lowest paid in the world.
MOHAMMAD PONIR HOSSAIN/REUTERS Police officers are seen while the garment workers block a road as they protest for higher wages in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on January 12, 2019.