Garment Workers in Bangladesh Promised a Raise After Strike
Garment manufacturers in Bangladesh said they would raise wages for a majority of workers after a week of strikes over low pay. Police have used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons during demonstrations in the streets that left one textile worker dead and dozens more injured.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi announced Sunday that workers in six out of seven pay grades would receive a raise. In December, the minimum monthly wage in Bangladesh was raised to taka 8,000, or $96, but not all garment workers saw a raise. Union leaders are asking for wages of taka 16,000 taka, or about $191, per month.
Amirul Huq, who represented union workers in negotiations facilitated by the government, said the strike would come to an end. “The discrepancies in the wage structure have been resolved by the prime minister’s intervention,” he said. “We welcome the new wages. As trade unions, we have the right to protest, but that does not mean vandalizing factories or blocking roads. Workers will go back to work.”
Throughout the demonstrations, police hit crowds with tear gas and water cannons. On Tuesday, they fired rubber bullets at textile workers and hit Sumon Mia, killing him, according to The Daily Star newspaper. Colleagues said he was not a protester and was in fact on his way back to work at Anlima Textile factory.
Imdadul Haque, who worked at the same factory as Mia, said police violently raided workers’ houses regardless of whether they were on strike. “Although we did not join the demonstration, police came to our house and asked to see our professional identity cards. Upon seeing our ID cards, police started beating us. At one stage, police fired rubber bullets at my leg and my colleague’s leg,” he said.
The $30 billion textile industry in Bangladesh, which employs about 4 million people, makes clothing for brands including H&M, Uniqlo, Walmart and Nike. Beyond the low pay, the work requires long hours and significant safety risks. In 2013, 1,100 people died, many of whom were garment workers, when the Rana Plaza in Dhaka collapsed. Although progress since has been made to reduce hazards at factories, the job remains fast paced and dangerous.
“Wages are such a small part of the actual price of a product. They could even double or triple the wages,” said Liana Foxvog of the International Labor Rights Forum. “Fast fashion is part of the trend that’s putting pressure toward the race-to-the-bottom working conditions,” she added.