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.
In October 2019, charges filed by Hameem Group and Sin Shin Apparels against workers were dropped and several other factories reportedly filed a petition to withdraw their charges. At least 25 other cases are still underway.