• Bangladesh clothing manufacturers have offered BDT6,360 (US$76) as a minimum monthly wage for entry-level workers.
  • Labour organisations have countered, however, proposing BDT12,020 (US$143) as a new minimum monthly rate.
Bangladesh garment workers have rejected the latest wage proposal

Bangladesh garment workers have rejected the latest wage proposal

Bangladesh's garment owners and trade unions are far apart in the fraught ongoing minimum wage negotiations, proposing pay floors that are widely divergent.

The country's clothing manufacturers have offered BDT6,360 (US$76) as a minimum monthly wage for entry-level workers, up from the US$68 set in 2013 (around $63 at current exchange rates). Labour organisations have countered, however, calling for BDT12,020 (US$143) as a new minimum monthly rate.

The new proposals came on Monday (16 July) at the third-meeting of a minimum wage board, headed by a judge.

Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), and Shamsunnahar Bhuiyan, women affairs secretary of the Jatiya Sramik League (National Workers' League), representing the owners and the workers respectively, submitted the proposals.

But not only are the two sides far apart, some labour rights groups and unions have rejected both proposals, saying that the two plans fall short of the US$191 they have long demanded.   

Rahman said the BGMEA proposal was "adequate," adding: "We've calculated [the] wage considering many factors. We think our proposal is reasonable enough," he told just-style.

For instance, he said, the industry group took into consideration the wages of ten other sectors before developing its own proposal. He also stressed production costs, including utility bills, have risen, but apparel prices have fallen on international markets.

"We're a responsible sector. We can't pledge what we can never keep up," he said. "We won't be able to meet an illogical demand, which could render workers jobless."

The BGMEA boss said the Bangladesh ready-made garment sector needed to compete with those of other rival countries. However, some labour rights groups argued the owners' proposal would actually reduce wages.

"Owners have actually offered less than what workers are drawing now. It's better not to make mockery with workers," said Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmmed, executive director at the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), a labour think-tank.

With 5% annual increments, he said, apparel workers are getting US$79 on average now, higher than the BGMEA proposal.

"This is a heinous proposal," he told just-style. "While [the] wage board has been formed to raise pay, they [owners] have reduced it."

"Currently, a family's expenses can't be met with less than BDT16,000," argued Bazlur Rahman, general-secretary of the Bangladesh Songjukto Garments Sramik Federation (Bangladesh Combined Garments Workers' Federation).

He called for a revised proposal to be submitted to the board by the workers' representative, involving a higher rate of pay.

With no sign of a resolution in sight, local reports say a number of protests are now set to take place into August.

A march and rally is planned in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka tomorrow (20 July), while The Movement for Garment Workers' Rights – a platform of 12 worker organisations – has called a protest rally at Shahbagh on 21 July. The organisations will hold a token hunger strike in front of the BGMEA office on 25 July and in Chattogram on 27 July. There are also said to be demonstrations planned in the industrial areas from 25 July to 5 August.