Strikes Hit Bangladesh Apparel Industry

A failure to agree on a minimum wage for the garment sector has set off a series of protests in Dhaka.

A failure to agree on a minimum wage for the garment sector has set off a series of protests in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

This story first appeared in the September 24, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

By Monday night, there appeared to be no move towards a consensus, but rather a gathering rage among the workers that have been protesting since Saturday.

“We will not accept anything less than 8,000 taka [$104 at current exchange] per month,” Ahmed Rahman, a garment worker, told WWD. He is one of the 3.5 million workers who are a part of the garment industry in Bangladesh, thousands of whom have been engaged in making this point since Saturday with rallies, speeches, protests and violence in which factories and vehicles have been attacked.

Police officials said more than 100 factories were shut down and that they were forced to use tear gas to disperse the crowds. A police official of the Gazipur area said that the protests, which started before 8 a.m. Monday, were dispersed within two hours. Protests resounded from other parts of the city where garment factories are located, including Tejgaon, Mohakhali and Banani, as well as the surrounding areas of Savar and Ashulia. Several company owners requested security for their factories, while others closed for the day.

The protests only appear to be hardening the lines between employers and workers as the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association came up with a proposal on Friday to increase the minimum wage for garment workers by 20 percent, an increase from 3,000 takas, or $38.63, to 3,600 takas, or $46.36, a month.

The minimum wage rate was last increased in 2010, from 1,650 takas, or $21.25, to 3,000 takas monthly.

Since the government set up a commission in June to come up with an acceptable figure for a new minimum wage, there has been mounting tension in workers’ groups as they try to agree on a number and make it clear that they are not willing to negotiate for too little. Labor unions and workers across the country have been citing a variety of numbers for a minimum wage, ranging from 5,000 takas, or $64.39, to 12,000 takas, or $154.54.

The rally held Saturday was called by the Garments Sramik Samannoy Parishad, at which police officials estimated some 40,000 garment workers showed up. The rally was held at the Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka, where Shajahan Khan, who is an organizer for the group and also the shipping minister for the government, said that factory owners must accept that workers need higher salaries. His point was reiterated by several other union leaders, including Nazma Akter, president of the United Garments Workers Federation.

The demand at the rally was a call for 8,000 takas as the minimum wage.

Employers earlier said that this amount is more than one and a half times the existing wage, and would make it difficult for garment factories to survive.

“Many of the employers have to account for higher raw material costs, electricity costs, transportation costs as well as uncertain orders,” a BGMEA official told WWD on condition of anonymity. “It is a hard bargaining position for employers.”

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