Bangladesh gar­ment work­ers strike rolls on over low wages

Gar­ment work­ers have been de­mand­ing a wage rise, clos­ing fac­to­ries in the past seven days and tak­ing to the streets in huge marches that have wit­nessed vi­o­lence

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

DHAKA: Thou­sands of Bangladeshi gar­ment work­ers churn­ing out clothes for top global brands walked off the job on Sun­day and clashed with po­lice as protests over low wages en­tered a sec­ond week.

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.

Bangladesh is de­pen­dant on gar­ments stitched by mil­lions of low-paid tai­lors on fac­tory floors across the emerg­ing South Asia econ­omy of 165 mil­lion peo­ple.

Roughly 80 per cent of its ex­port earn­ings come from cloth­ing sales abroad, with global re­tail­ers H&M, Pri­mark, Wal­mart, Tesco and Aldi among the main buy­ers.

The protests are 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.

Gar­ment work­ers have been de­mand­ing a wage rise, clos­ing fac­to­ries in the past seven days and tak­ing to the streets in huge marches that have wit­nessed vi­o­lence.

“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.” Union leader Aminul Is­lam blamed fac­tory own­ers for re­sort­ing to vi­o­lence to con­trol strik­ing work­ers.

“But they are more united than ever,” he told AFP. “It doesn’t seem like they will leave the streets, un­til their de­mands are met.”

Min­i­mum wages for the low­est­paid gar­ment work­ers rose by a lit­tle over 50 per cent this month to 8,000 taka ($95) per month.

Ris­ing costs of liv­ing

But mid-tier tai­lors say their rise was pal­try and fails to re­flect the ris­ing costs of liv­ing, es­pe­cially in hous­ing.

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.

“We may fol­low the ‘no work, no pay’ the­ory, ac­cord­ing to the labour law,” as­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Sid­dikur Rahman told re­porters.

Last year Bangladesh was the sec­ond-largest 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.

The in­dus­try also has a poor work­place safety record. The Rana Plaza gar­ment fac­tory col­lapse in 2013 killed more than 1,130 peo­ple in one of the world’s worst in­dus­trial ac­ci­dents.

Fol­low­ing the dis­as­ter, ma­jor re­tail­ers formed two groups to in­tro­duce fac­tory re­forms.

The Bangladesh Gar­ment Man­u­fac­tur­ers and Ex­porters’ As­so­ci­a­tion says its mem­bers have since in­vested $1 bil­lion in safety up­grades.

- AFP file photo

PROTEST: Bangladeshi gar­ment work­ers block a road dur­ing a demon­stra­tion to de­mand higher wages, in Dhaka.

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