Bangladesh garment workers should benefit from a new pay deal

Bangladesh garment workers should benefit from a new pay deal

A new government-backed pay deal agreed for the Bangladesh garment industry came into force this week, with workers expecting their earnings to increase by up to 75% when they get paid in December.

While labour rights groups claim the pay deal still falls short of covering basic living costs, they believe it is an important step towards achieving a living wage for the country's garment workers.

And even the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Exporters Association (BGMEA), an association of factory owners that previously said it couldn't afford the new salary structure, is to begin paying workers the new national minimum wage.

The changes were approved by the government at the end of July.

Under the new deal, beginning in December a garment helper, the lowest paid worker in a garment factory, will be paid BDT3,000 (US$43) a month. These workers currently earn a monthly wage of BDT1,662 ($24). The wage hike will mark the first pay rise for garment workers in over four years.

However, with the Eid holiday only weeks away, the National Garment Workers' Federation (NGWF) is now calling for a festival bonus, calculated on the basis of the new wage levels.

Although the factories are bound by the law to use the new salary structure to determine the Eid bonus, some government officials and the owners' association have been arguing that the previous year's wage should be used.

However, the Minister of Labour has announced that the Eid festival bonus will be calculated in line with the new wage level.

NGWF and other labour groups say they will be monitoring the situation in the coming weeks to ensure that all Bangladeshi garment workers receive the new wage in December. The trade union will continue to campaign for a living wage, which is estimated at BDT5,000 ($72).

Changes to the garment workers' pay were negotiated after months of violent protests earlier this year, with up to 350 factories forced to close and shipments disrupted as rioting workers blocked main roads.

Local news reports suggest hundreds of garment workers have protested again this week near Dhaka at factories including the AmanTex complex which supplies Swedish retail giant H&M. However, just-style has been informed that the protests relate to calls for pay differentials to be maintained between new starters (who get the minimum wage) and experienced workers who are paid more.