Bangladesh: Widespread garment worker protests over minimum wage increase; leads to mass dismissals

In September 2018, the Bangladesh government moved to raise the monthly minimum wage for garment workers - for the first time in five years - to Tk 8,000 (USD 96), up from the previous Tk 5,300 (USD 63). Many garment workers are dissatisfied with the increase, as workers rights organisations and trade unions had been calling for at least Tk 16,000. Others were unhappy about a discrepancy in the increase between junior and senior workers. While workers claim the increase is not enough to cover increased living costs, factory owners say they cannot afford to pay increased wages.

In January 2019, thousands of garment workers staged protests for increased minimum wages, particularly for those on mid-range wage grades who had effectively received no increase under the changes. Some protests were met with force by the authorities. After one violent clash, where police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds, one person was killed and 50 others injured.

In response, the government formed a 'tripartite committee' to review garment worker wages and on 13 January the committee agreed to modest wage increases to the lower and mid-range worker grades. The gross monthly wage of Tk 8,000 proposed in September remained unchanged. Following this development, manufacturers urged workers to return to work, however thousands of workers continued to protest, rejecting the pay hike as insufficient.

Approximately 5,000 factory workers have been fired after being accused of looting and vandalism during the protests. However, unions have accused the industry of intimidation and a crackdown, claiming the number of workers fired is closer to 11,000. Metro Knitting & Dyeing Mills Ltd. was named in a media report as one of the factories who had dismissed workers. In February 2019, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Fast Retailing, who source from Metro Knitting, to respond. The response is included below. 

In a statement (included below), H&M - which sources from three factories that have dismissed workers - said it is "closely observing the situation" and the "well-being of the workers at our suppliers’ factories is a priority."

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Article
5 February 2019

Global labour rights group demands release of Bangladeshi garment workers

Author: NewAge, Bangladesh

"Global labour rights group demands release of arrested RMG workers", 5 February 2019

The United Steelworkers, one of the largest unions in North America..., has urged the Bangladesh government to release immediately all the garment workers and union representatives arrested on ‘trumped-up charges’ due to demonstration protesting against the inadequate minimum wage increase.

The USW...also demanded dropping charges against workers involved in demonstrations in December last year, as well as those charges that remained unsettled following the protests in 2016 demanding wage hike...

[A] letter was sent to Bangladesh high commissioner in Canada...The USW urged Bangladesh to respect the rights of workers working in the RMG [ready made garment] sector to living wages and to stop repression against the workers...[It] also requested Bangladesh’s Supreme Court to lift the restraining order and ensure that the Accord on Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh can continue its operations for the duration of the 3-year transition agreement or until the designated oversight committee determines that the Remediation and Coordination Cell is capable of taking over its tasks.

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Article
4 February 2019

Bangladesh: H&M & Next comment on dismissals following garment worker protests

Author: Marc Bain, Quartz

"5,000 workers protesting low wages in Bangladeshi garment factories have been fired", 1 February 2019

...5,000 workers or possibly more have lost their jobs, following massive protests in the country to demand higher pay, in what workers’ advocates frame as retaliation for the protests, but industry representatives call a response to acts such as looting and vandalism. Among the factories that have fired workers, according to one workers’ rights group, are some that supply well-known foreign brands.

... It named as an example Metro Knitting and Dyeing Mills—a supplier to brands such as Next and H&M—which confirmed terminating 287 workers. The Daily Star reported that workers were given 45 days of wages and dismissed on the condition that cases filed against them over the protests would be dropped.

In a statement, H&M said it considers “freedom of association to be a non-negotiable human right. It is a key component of our Sustainability Commitment and a fundamental requirement for all our business partners.” The company added that is “deeply concerned by the recent events in the Bangaldeshi textile industry.”

Next said it is aware of the situation and its “directly employed audit staff on the ground in Bangladesh are currently investigating this matter.” It added that it is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), which works to ensure fair supply chains and has a code of labor practices, and that the group is also aware of the claims...

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Article
30 January 2019

Bangladesh: Thousands of garment workers sacked over minimum wage protests

"Almost 5,000 Bangladeshi garment workers sacked over strikes", 29 Jan 2019

Nearly 5,000 low-paid Bangladeshi garment workers sewing clothes for global brands have been sacked by factory bosses for taking part in strikes over wages earlier this month that turned violent…[and] disrupted the $30bn industry.

One worker was killed and more than 50 injured in clashes in Ashulia, a key industrial town outside Dhaka where clothes are sewn for retail giants H&M, Walmart and many others.

Police said thousands of factory workers accused of looting and vandalism during the protests have been fired, but unions have accused the industry of intimidation and a crackdown…

Unions say the real number fired is much higher, closer to 7,000, and that nearly 100 more have been arrested in roundups. Police would not comment on allegations of widespread arrests.

Salauddin Shapon, general secretary of industry body IndustriAll Bangladesh Council, said many workers were afraid to return to work…

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Article
28 January 2019

Bangladesh: Garment workers' wages rise due to protests

Author: The Daily Star, Bangladesh

"Workers' wages rise in 6 grades", 14 Janaury 2019

After eight days of labour unrest, the government yesterday [13 January] announced a revised pay structure for the garment sector, with a slight increase in both basic and gross wages in six of the seven grades. The gross hike ranges from a token Tk 15 [~ 0.56 USD] to a modest Tk 747 [~ 9 USD], effective from December last year and to be adjusted from February...Workers, protesting since January 6, had been demanding pay raise in three grades in particular -- grade 3, 4 and 5...

Even as a tripartite committee held almost a daylong meeting to reach a consensus on the hike, RMG [ready-made garment] workers continued their protest. On the other hand, factory owners threatened to shut down their units if the protestors did not go back to work...[The] president of the National Garment Workers Federation, said, “We welcome the revision and the new wage structure.” He was speaking on behalf of the trade union leaders who are on the tripartite committee. Reactions among the workers were mixed...

Incidents of labour unrest over the pay structure made headlines in early December...That protest died down ahead of the general election. However, when workers drew their wages for January, they spotted a huge disparity -- in some cases, their gross wages came down instead of going up, triggering the latest spell of protest. After yesterday's announcement, trade union leaders are hoping that the workers will join work...

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Article
28 January 2019

Bangladesh: ILO praises garment wage review

Author: bdnews24.com, Bangladesh

"ILO praises garment wage review", 14 January 2019

In the wake of raging protests by garment workers over the minimum wage scale, a special tripartite committee was formed by the government to review the wage board. On Sunday [13 January], the committee reached an agreement to increase workers’ minimum wages.

“We acknowledge the genuine efforts of all parties, led by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, to work towards setting minimum wages at an appropriate level and to reach a consensus,” [the] ILO country director for Bangladesh, said in a statement on Monday...While emphasising the importance of social dialogue in achieving social and economic stability, the ILO has also offered its assistance to the tripartite stakeholders in reviewing the minimum wage scale...

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Article
17 January 2019

Bangladesh: Hundreds fired after garment worker strikes

Author: AFP

"Hundreds sacked after Bangladesh garment strikes", 16 January 2019

Bangladesh factories making clothes for Western brands have sacked hundreds of workers after more than a week of strikes and clashes over wages... The demonstrations died down this week after the government agreed to raise salaries, but many returned to work on Wednesday to discover they had been laid off.

A top union leader said at least 750 workers at various companies in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia had found notices hanging on factory gates informing them of their dismissal along with photos of their faces.

"This is unjust. The owners are doing it to create a climate of fear so that no one can dare to stage protests or demand fair wages," the leader said... "Police told me not to create trouble. Otherwise I'll be disappeared."

Police and a senior factory manager gave a lower total of around 400 workers fired for damaging equipment during the strike -- with more than half from one Ashulia plant called Metro Knitting and Dyeing.

Metro Knitting's general manager Atiqul Islam told AFP that the company has reported nearly 300 workers to police for smashing the factory's CCTV cameras and computers...

 

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Article
15 January 2019

Bangladesh: Garment workers reject 'insufficient' pay rise & resume protests; Factories urge global brands to pay more

Author: Ruma Paul, Reuters

"Bangladesh garment workers stage protests, say pay rise insufficient", 14 January 2019

Several thousand garment workers took to the streets in Bangladesh on Monday, rejecting a pay hike in the crucial export industry as insufficient, police and union leaders said.

Garment owners agreed to raise workers’ pay on Sunday after a week of violent demonstrations...

Though many have returned to work, most employees remain unhappy with the pay rise proposed as basic salaries were not raised as expected, union leaders said...

Garment owners said the rise put an extra burden on them which small factories will find difficult to afford, urging global brands to pay more for the clothes they buy...

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Article
13 January 2019

Bangladesh: Garment manufacturers association threatens to cut protesting workers' pay & close factories

Author: Ruma Paul, Reuters

"Bangladesh factory owners threaten to cut off pay to protesting workers", 13 January 2019

The head of Bangladesh's garment manufacturers association on Sunday called on protesting workers to return to work by Monday or companies will cut off their pay, after demonstrations calling for higher salaries that have lasted for a week...

Seeking to end the turmoil, Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association... [said]... "If you don't return to your work by tomorrow, you will not be paid any wages and we will shut down factories for an indefinite period,"... "Despite repeated assurance of meeting the demands, the workers are being incited to create unrest. We will not allow this anymore."...

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Article
13 January 2019

Bangladesh: Tripartite committee agrees to increase garment workers' pay

Author: Ruma Paul, Reuters

"Bangladesh garment manufacturers raise workers' pay amid further protests", 13 January 2019

Garment manufacturers in Bangladesh have agreed to raise workers’ pay, the commerce minister said on Sunday, urging people to return to work after a week of violent demonstrations...

All parties involved agreed to raise wages across 6 of the 7 pay grades, leaving the minimum wages unchanged at 8,000 taka ($95), Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi told reporters...The revised wages are effective from December and will be adjusted from January, Munshi said.

Amirul Huq, who represented union leaders on the panel which met with Munshi, said they welcomed the wage hikes...

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Article
10 January 2019

Bangladesh: Government to consider demands for increased minimum wage for garment workers

Author: Euan Rocha, Business Insider

"Bangladesh clashes prompt garment industry wage review", 9 January 2019

Bangladesh... will consider demands for an increase in the minimum wage, a minister said, after a third day of clashes with police that killed one worker and wounded dozens...

The government formed a panel of factory owners, union leaders and government officials to investigate the pay demands, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said... "The committee will be able to sort out the problems and hopefully in one month this will be resolved," Munshi said...

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