Bangladesh garment workers stage biggest wage hike protest

DHAKA Sat Sep 21, 2013 1:19pm EDT

1 of 3. Garment workers listen to speakers during a rally demanding an increase to their minimum wage in Dhaka September 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Biraj

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DHAKA (Reuters) - About 50,000 garment industry workers held their largest protest so far in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka to demand an increase of more than 1-1/2 times in the minimum wage, police and labor officials said on Saturday.

"Our backs are against the wall, so we don't have any alternative unless we raise our voice strongly," Nazma Akter, president of the United Garments Workers' Federation, which groups 52 garment worker's groups, told the peaceful protest.

"We will not hesitate to do anything to realize our demand."

Bangladesh's $20-billion garment export industry employs roughly 4 million workers who earn about 3,000 taka ($38) a month, or half what Cambodian factory workers now earn. They want a raise to 8,000 taka ($103) per month.

"We are not the object of mercy, the economy moves with our toil," Akter added.

Although the factory owners earlier agreed to a raise of just 20 percent, the workers refused this, calling it "inhuman and humiliating".

The four-hour protest ended at 1200 GMT. "It is the largest gathering of its kind to realize their demand for raising wages," said Dhaka Metropolitan Police Chief Habibur Rahman.

Earlier more than 300 factories in an industrial zone near the capital shut production as workers came out in support of the same demand, blocked a highway and damaged several vehicles.

At least 10,000 workers from different garment factories took to the highway, said Mosharraf Hossain, assistant superintendent of industrial police in Gazipur, 30 km (18 miles) north of the capital.

Joined by workers from adjacent factories, they vandalized several factories, he added, which prompted the owners of more than 300 units to halt production for the day, fearing more vandalism. The workers later joined the Dhaka rally.

The government is in talks with labor groups and factory owners on a new minimum wage. Bangladesh last hiked its minimum garment-worker pay in late 2010, almost doubling the lowest pay.

This time, wages are unlikely to go much higher as factory owners, who oppose the raise, say they cannot afford higher salaries as Western retailers are used to buying cheap clothing.

In July, Bangladesh approved a labor law to boost worker rights, including the freedom to form trade unions, following the April collapse of a factory building that killed 1,132 garment workers and sparked debate over labor safety and rights.

Bangladesh faced pressure to adopt better labor laws after the European Union, which gives preferential access to the country's garment industry, threatened punitive measures if it did not improve worker safety standards.

Tax breaks offered by Western nations and low wages have helped turn the garment sector into Bangladesh's largest employment generator. Sixty percent of exports go to Europe.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir, Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Comments (3)
chekovmerlin wrote:
Old union labor cry in the U.S: “On strike, shut it down, on strike, shut it down.” In Union there is strength. American and Europe will pay more for clothing, certainly if it last through one washing which Bangladesh clothing does not.

Sep 21, 2013 8:08pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
chekovmerlin wrote:
Old union labor cry in the U.S: “On strike, shut it down, on strike, shut it down.” In Union there is strength. American and Europe will pay more for clothing, certainly if it last through one washing which Bangladesh clothing does not.

Sep 21, 2013 8:08pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
J3lliott wrote:
Inhumane acts are seen all around the world on a day to day basis, and the 50,000 Bangladeshi garment workers protesting for equal pay is a great example of this. If breaking their backs at work each day isn’t enough, they aren’t even paid a half of what is fair for the hard labour seen in these garment factories. These factories are based on a sweat-shop basis, where the workers are forced into long hours and they do not see nearly as many benefits as they deserve. To some, the outburst of the worker’s was a bit of overkill, but I believe that they have perfect reason to be that upset. When you are earning $38 a month for work that is worth $103 per month, the economic reasoning in the company needs to be questioned. This article links back to Social 30 is the sense that the Bangladeshi government holds too much involvement over the factory, which holds the wages at a stand-still, unable to raise. Also, Bangladesh’s $20-billion garment export industry plays a large role in the entire economy of Bangladesh and allied countries; such as Europe and America. The reason that there is an incapability for a raise in wage for garment workers in mainly due to the big companies that control this aspect of the Bangladesh economy. If the wages were to be raised in Bangladesh, this would greatly affect the big exportation companies involved with the factories. For example, the American companies want to be able to offer their consumers with inexpensive products from Bangladesh; they do not hold sympathy for the “little guys.” They believe that the workers are desperate enough to make do for their families that they will accept any source of income available. The last link seen is the 50,000 Bangladeshi garment workers struggling to fight for their individual rights in their country. Their rights are being restricted, by being paid humiliating amounts of money, for work that they are expected to put their up most effort into. Since no one of importance in the Bangladeshi government is taking the workers’ needs into consideration, it was left up to the worker’s to fight for their own rights and respect.

Sep 26, 2013 3:14pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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