More than 3m garment workers in Bangladesh are to be offered subsidised rice within the first week of April in a government move to try to shield staff on low wages from rising food prices.

The scheme plans to sell rice at BDT18 (US$0.26) per kg against the retail price of BDT24 per kg, and will allow each worker to buy 20 kg per month at this special rate.

Fazlul Hoque, president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BKMEA), told just-style that similar measures have already been taken four times in the last two years.

He added that the programme, which may last for a year, will see rice being distributed through the BKMEA and the BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) - the industry's two leading trade bodies.

It is estimated that the majority of Bangladeshi households spend 70% of their income on food, and there have been a number of protests at garment plants over the last year against high food prices and poor pay.

Most of the workers employed in Bangladesh's garment industry are women, and the government-set minimum monthly wage is around US$25.