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.

Mass dismissals as part of a widespread crackdown following the protests have seen approximately 12,000 workers dismissed, accused by factory owners of looting and vandalism. Several of the dismissed workers have also had charges brought against them, which have been described by rights groups as 'baseless'. 

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."

In March 2019, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited further brands sourcing from Bangladesh to respond to the mass dismissals and outline concrete steps being taken to remedy the situation. You can read the full story and responses, here.

In April 2019, a report by Workers Rights Consoritum found that the mass dismissals, violence and arrests following the protests were 'unlawful' and called on brands sourcing from Bangladesh to: withdraw criminal complaints filed in relation to the protests; reinstate and provide back wages to all workers terminated or forced to resign; and commit to a nondiscriminatory hiring process to end the blacklisting of workers based on their involvement in the protests.

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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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Article
10 January 2019

Bangladesh: One dead, 50 injured after police forcefully disperse garment worker protests

Author: AFP

"One dead, 50 injured in Bangladesh garment workers' strike", 9 January 2019

Bangladeshi police on Wednesday... used water cannons to disperse 10,000 striking garment workers who were blocking a major highway in a fourth day of industrial action, an official said.

The authorities meanwhile confirmed that one worker was killed and 50 others injured on Tuesday after police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at some 5,000 workers protesting in Dhaka and on the outskirts of the capital...

...50,000 workers walked out of their factories in the morning demanding higher wages... Mr Mohammad Abdullah... [a] worker, said manufacturers have hired local musclemen to stop workers in other factories from joining the protest...

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Article
9 January 2019

Bangladesh: Police deploy rubber bullets & tear gas against thousands of garment workers protesting new minimum wage

Author: The Globe Post

"Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets as Bangladesh Garment Workers Strike", 8 January 2019

Bangladeshi police Tuesday fired rubber bullets and tear gas as thousands of striking workers in the... country’s huge garment industry staged protests for a third day demanding wage hikes.

Police said more than 5,000 workers blocked a national highway at Hemayetpur outside the capital Dhaka and staged demonstrations for hours after they walked out of their factories.

“At least 12 policemen were injured after they threw rocks at our officers. We fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. Twelve factories were shut down,” police official Sana Shaminur Rahman told AFP.

Bangladesh raised the minimum monthly wage for the garment sector’s four million workers by 51 percent to 8,000 taka ($95)  from December. But senior workers say their raise was less than this and unions, which warn the strikes may spread, say the hike fails to compensate for price rises in recent years...

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Article
17 September 2018

Protests over Bangladesh’s minimum wage for garment workers

Author: Faisal Mahmud, Asia Times

Hundreds of garment workers and union leaders took to the streets of Dhaka on Friday after rejecting government plans to raise their minimum wage to Tk 8,000 (US$96) per month. Union leaders and workers described the new wage as a “joke” and a “slap on the face." Mujibul Haque Chunnu, Bangladesh’s State Minister for Labor and Employment, on Thursday declared the new minimum wage, a 51% increase from the previous Tk 5,300 ($64)...MM Akash, a Professor of Economics of Dhaka University and one of the consultants on the wage board, said Tk 8,000 ($96) was nowhere near the amount he suggested.He said, in reality, a six-member family of a worker needs about Tk 28,620 ($341) per month to lead a decent life with basic facilities. “Considering the economic condition of the whole country and the capacity of the owners, I had recommended Tk 16,000, which is the minimum,” he said...Factory owners say the revised salary of Tk 8,000 ($96) was, in fact, too much for them to bear. Siddiqur Rahman, President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) – the apex body of apparel manufacturers and traders – said in the last few years a number of garment manufacturers had to shut their factories as they could not cover their costs.

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Article
15 September 2018

Representative criticised for not protecting workers’ interest

Author: Moinul Haque, New Age (Bangladesh)

Apparel sector trade union leaders on Friday criticised workers’ representative to the wage board for accepting Tk 8,000 as the minimum wage for readymade garment workers without any consultation with the sector people. The labour leaders said that the workers’ representative failed to protect the interest of the workers as she was not the real representative of the sector. Workers’ representative Shamsunnahar Bhuiyan said that she agreed with the minimum wage as prime minister Sheikh Hasina proposed the amount and requested the representatives of the factory owners and the workers to accept it. ‘It is a stage-managed wage board and the government has set the minimum wage as per the will of the factory owners,’ Garment  Worker Trade Union Centre executive president Kazi Ruhul Amin told New Age on Friday. The workers representative is not a real representative of garment sector workers rather the government appointed her violating the labour law and rules,’ he said.IndustriALL Bangladesh Council secretary general Salauddin Shapon said that the workers representative failed to protect the workers interest. Shamsunnahar Bhuiyan was not selected by the trade unions, rather she was appointed by the government and she never discussed with the sector leaders about the minimum wage, he said. Labour leaders had questioned the appointment of workers’ representative saying that the government had violated the labour rules as it did not appoint workers’ representative to the wage board from the highest-represented workers’ federation. 

 

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Article
28 August 2018

Brands’ support for a living wage for garment workers in Bangladesh

Author: Clean Clothes Campaign

The Minimum Wage Board in Bangladesh will reconvene on Wednesday, 29 August, to set the new statutory minimum wage for workers in Bangladesh’s garment industry. Ahead of this meeting Clean Clothes Campaign, the International Labor Rights Forum and Maquila Solidarity Network jointly urged major brands sourcing from Bangladesh to publicly support workers’ demands. These include the minimum wage of 16,000 taka, a statutory framework to govern pay grades and promotion and other welfare measures. Inditex – the owner of Zara, Bershka, Pull and Bear and several other labels – was the first to publicly respond in a positive manner...Whereas brands previously only responded in direct correspondence, Inditex now published a statement on their website, in which they wrote: “We believe in the right of workers to a living wage, in Bangladesh and in all the markets from which we source. Therefore we expect the collective demands of workers, expressed through their legitimate unions including IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, to be taken into account, and the current negotiations used to reach agreement for a fair increase in the minimum wage that preserves the right of workers to a living wage.”“We welcome this statement, and based on the responses received in the last few days we fully expect other leading brands to issue their own public statements in support of workers’ demands, or publicly support the statement made by Inditex,” said Ineke Zeldenrust from CCC.

 

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