Bangladesh’s newly sworn in commerce minister, Tipu Munshi, has promised that garment worker wages will be reviewed, as violent clashes with police continued for a third day yesterday.
According to a report from Reuters, Munshi said on Tuesday (8 January) that the government has formed a panel of factory owners, union leaders and government officials to investigate the pay demands. “The committee will be able to sort out the problems and hopefully in one month this will be resolved,” he adds.
Global workers union IndustriAl says clashes with police, who fired rubber bullets and tear gas at around 5,000 protesting workers on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, have led to one garment worker death and dozens wounded. While the AFP, citing a police official, claims 12 factories have been closed since the violence broke out.
IndustriAll adds that as many as 50,000 garment workers have walked out of their factories demanding higher wages.
The latest unrest comes after 50 garment production factories suspended operations in the middle of December as strikes broke out over wages. The new wage of BDT8,000 (US$94) was implemented in December, but the 51% rise is half what the IndustriAll Bangladesh Council (IBC) had been seeking. The Council, made up of IndustriAll Global Union affiliates in Bangladesh, said the new wage is “inadequate” to meet the living costs of Bangladeshi garment workers, adding that rent has increased by up to 50%, and other living costs have also increased. Unions also say garment workers are angry that not everyone is benefiting from the increase, particularly senior workers.
Prior to this, the last increase was made in 2013 following international pressure after a string of fatal factory accidents. This was an increase from BDT3,000 (US$35) adopted in 2010.
With apparel exports totalling around US$30bn last financial year, Bangladesh has the second-largest garment-export industry in the world after China and employs 4.5m workers, mostly women.
“We strongly condemn the use of deadly force against striking garment workers in Bangladesh,” said IndustriAll’s assistant general secretary, Jenny Holdcroft. “Garment workers’ anger over wage disparities highlights the urgent need for industry bargaining to enable unions to negotiate fair wage outcomes for all workers.”