DHAKA, Bangladesh — Following a government-mediated move to ease labor unrest with a substantial increase in the minimum wage last week, protests from an unsatisfied sector of the workers and their unions flared up over the weekend and continued Monday.
Only a small fraction of the 350 garment factories that were closed in Dhaka on Sunday over a lack of security were able to resume full operations on Monday.
The situation in Dhaka’s garment industry remained tense, even after months of protests over low wages were seemingly quieted by the doubling of the minimum wage, as workers and leaders of a section of workers’ unions opposing the new pay structure took to the streets in often-violent confrontations with law enforcement in the four days since the announcement.
The protesting workers demanded a further revision of the minimum entry-level wage, calling for it to be raised to 5,000 taka ($72) a month from the newly fixed 3,000 taka ($43), and for immediate implementation instead of Nov. 1, as announced by Labor Minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain on Thursday. The shutdown of factories disrupted shipments to export markets, mainly the U.S., Canada and European Union. The owners said they will continue the lockout if the government does not ensure security.
“We are feeling unsafe and need protection,” said Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association, explaining the lockout.
More than 600 workers were reportedly injured in the clashes, some with bullet wounds. About 50 policemen were hurt, with one police officer injured badly enough to be hospitalized.
Hossain called an urgent meeting on Sunday evening with representatives from factory owners, government authorities and the labor unions in an effort to reach a compromise and calm the unrest.
“We are expecting normalcy by Tuesday by motivating all workers,” Hossain briefed journalists again on Monday.
“The government and factory owners have not accepted our demands and are not sitting with the genuine representatives of the workers’ unions for an acceptable deal, rather they are forcing to agree with them,” a protesting worker told WWD on condition of anonymity.
He was one of an estimated 50,000 garment makers involved in the demonstrations over what they claimed were mistreatment by factory owners, illegal firings and other labor-law violations, in addition to the call for higher wages.
“The government has just done what the garment factory owners wanted,” said Mushrefa Mishu, president of Garment Workers’ Unity Forum, a leading organizer of the movement for the pay hike.
However, operations in most of Bangladesh’s 5,000 garment factories, employing 3.5 million workers, were near normal. The factories exported $12.5 million worth of garments in the fiscal year ended June 30.