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Bangladesh: Why are garment workers protesting?

Demonstrations by garment workers in South Asian nation led to doubling of minimum wage

Bangladesh: Why are garment workers protesting?

By Md. Kamruzzaman

DHAKA, Bangladesh

Ayesha Khatun, 33, a garment worker, actively took part in the recent demonstrations held in capital Dhaka and its outskirts.

Thousands of readymade garment (RMG) workers joined the weeklong street protest demanding wage hike and removing pay disparity.

Agitated workers clashed with police during the unrest last week leaving allegedly one worker killed and hundreds others injured including dozens of police officers.

In wake of the protest, the government revised the pay structure for garment industry workers on Jan. 13, giving them a raise retroactive to December of 8,000 Bangladeshi taka ($100) to 18,257 taka ($228) monthly.

Bangladesh’s RMG sector maintains seven grades, or structures in paying wages to its workers, based on experience and skill.

Calling the raise offer as inadequate, workers continued to protest on the next day. Most of the workers, however, returned to workplaces on Tuesday morning, according to local media reports.

The weeklong demonstration was also marked by vandalizing of dozens of street vehicles including police cars and some factories.

Workers' woes

Why did Khatun, a quiet widow hailing from a remote area, take part in the protest which turned violent?

“As the lowest grade worker my gross wage is 8,000 taka of which I spend 2,000 taka ($23.8) as house rent in a slum, 3,000 taka ($35.7) for food and 1,000 taka ($11.9) for other needs. I have only 2,000 taka ($23.8) for my two kids living in my village home,” Khatun told Anadolu Agency.

“The movement for wage hike is always welcomed by me for my kids – studying in class three and class one respectively in a rural primary school – and whom I dream to establish as doctors,” she added.

“On an average I can also earn additional 2,000 take by working overtime monthly and send the whole sum to my aged mother who looks after my kids.”

“We are working ceaselessly and they [factory owners] earn huge profits, but pay us a measly amount,” she added.

More than 4 million people, mostly women like Khatun, are currently working in around 3,200 RMG factories, the country’s highest producer of exports that exported $30.6 billion in fiscal year 2017-18.

After a tragic building collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 in Dhaka that killed more than 1,100 workers and injured over 2,500, the issue of workers’ safety has become a new concern worldwide.

After this, some measures have been taken for structural and fire safety of RMG workers in Bangladesh while low pay structure issue fails to draw much attention.

“We are deprived for long. We need minimum monthly wage of 12,000 taka ($142.78),” garment worker Rubel Ahmed told Anadolu Agency.

Factory owners

Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) vice president Fazlee Shamim Ehsan told Anadolu Agency that pay structures of RMG workers have been revised twice in a year. “Workers should peacefully get back to work now.”

Labour rights leader Nazma Akter told Anadolu Agency that many workers had been detained by law enforcers during the movement.

Head of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Siddiqur Rahmad, however, points to external interference.

“Some factories complying with international regulations, paying workers fair wages on time and providing other benefits have been vandalized during demonstration,” Rahman told Anadolu Agency.

“It is the responsibility of the government to find out those infiltrators,” he added.

State Minister for Labour and Employment Ministry Munnuzan Sufian assured a solution.

“I hope that workers will pay attention to duties in respect to the latest wage revision, made possible by the direct intervention of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,” she told Anadolu Agency.

In resolving this crisis a tripartite dialogue among government, worker representatives and owners is needed, economic analyst AB Mirza Azizul Islam told Anadolu Agency.

“The government should also deeply monitor whether there is any political provocation or external [foreign] infiltration to unrest in the country’s highest exporting sector,” he added.

Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.
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