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  • The garment workers shout as they protest for higher wages in Dhaka, Bangladesh Jan. 12, 2019.

    The garment workers shout as they protest for higher wages in Dhaka, Bangladesh Jan. 12, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 13 January 2019

Nearly 50 factories closed after thousands of workers took to the streets for a week demanding higher wages in Bangladesh. 

Garment manufacturers in Bangladesh have agreed to raise workers' pay, the commerce minister said Sunday, urging people to return to work after a week of violent demonstrations. 

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Thousands of Garment Workers Demonstrate in Bangladesh

All parties involved agreed to raise wages across 6 of the 7 pay grades, leaving the minimum wages unchanged at 8,000 taka ($95), Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi told reporters after a meeting of the panel.  Workers demanded a minimum monthly wage of 10,000 taka (US$119).

Earlier the head of Bangladesh’s garment manufacturers association Sunday called on protesting workers to return to work by Monday or companies will cut off their pay, after demonstrations calling for higher salaries lasting a week.

The workers’ protests, which have broken down into clashes between police and protesters that killed one worker Tuesday and wounded dozens more last week, pushed the Bangladesh government to consider the demand for higher pay. The country is the world’s second-biggest garment exporter behind China.

Nearly 50 factories closed after thousands of workers took to the streets demanding higher wages, police official Rezaul Haque said.

Seeking to end the turmoil, Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) threatened to cut off the workers’ pay at a news conference after further clashes Sunday.

“If you don’t return to your work by tomorrow, you will not be paid any wages and we will shut down factories for an indefinite period,” he said. “Despite the repeated assurance of meeting the demands, the workers are being incited to create unrest. We will not allow this anymore.”

At least 20 people were hurt after police used teargas and water cannons to disperse workers, who blocked a major highway in the Ashulia garment manufacturing hub, said Saminur Rahman, a director for the Industrial Police, which patrols the country’s business hubs.

The Ashulia hub, on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, accounts for nearly 20 percent of Bangladesh’s total garment exports.

The protests are a test for the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who won a third straight term in elections on Dec. 30, which were marred by violence amid allegations of widespread rigging and voter intimidation.

But union leaders say that increase will benefit only a small percentage of workers in the garment sector, which employs 4 million out of the country’s 165 million people.

The government has formed a panel of factory owners, union leaders, and officials to investigate the pay demands, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said Tuesday, adding he hoped a resolution could be reached in a month.

“The panel will meet this afternoon. The workers will have to accept their decision,” BGMEA’s Rahman said.

Low wages and trade deals with Western countries have made the sector a $30 billion industry accounting for 80 percent of Bangladesh’s exports.

Aside from low wages, the garment industry in Bangladesh has a poor workplace safety record. In 2013, the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Savar killed at least 1,130 people.

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