Bangladesh raises wages amid protests

Iran Daily - - International -

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.

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