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DHAKA – A garment factory worker has been shot dead by police in Bangladesh as thousands of garment workers took to the streets to demand a minimum wage increase. Rasel Howlader, a worker at the Design Express garment factory in Gazipur, was shot dead by police during the protests. Design Express is a unionised factory and the union is affiliated to IndustriALL’s affiliate, SGSF.

Reports suggests local worker representatives are claiming two protestors have been killed, however, these claims have not yet been corroborated.

Protests have intensified across Dhaka since the fourth meeting of the country’s wage board on 22 October, where garment factory owners’ proposed to increase the minimum wage to BDT10,400 (US$94). Given the rising of cost of living, garment owners’ proposition of the new wage has been deemed insufficient by unions.

Over the last few days, three union organisers, Masud Rana of BGTLWF, Mossarrof Hossain of BMCGTWF and Jewel Miya of BIGUF, have been arrested. Police have filed cases against several other organisers and workers, alleging vandalism and assault.

The police action against workers in Bangladesh coincides with the ILO Governing Body meeting in Geneva, which will examine the latest progress report submitted by the government of Bangladesh on the implementation of the ILO Roadmap. One of the priority areas of the Roadmap is that government needs to show it has taken measures around anti-union discrimination and violence against workers – serious long-term issues in Bangladesh.

Apoorva Kaiwar, south Asia regional secretary of IndustriALL, said: “It is horrific that the legitimate demands for higher minimum wages activists are met with police violence. The government’s report on the implementation of the ILO Roadmap, particularly on dealing with anti-union discrimination and violence against workers, does not reflect reality

“IndustriALL calls on the government of Bangladesh to ensure that police does not use force against protesting workers. IndustriALL also calls on the government to increase the minimum wage for garment workers to BDT23,000.”

Garment unions in Bangladesh, including IndustriALL affiliates, have been demanding an increase in the minimum wage from BDT8,000 (US$75) to BDT23,000 (US$215) since the beginning of the year. The government had last reviewed the minimum wage in 2018, when it was fixed at BDT8,000 (US$75) for an entry-level garment worker.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) president Faruque Hassan has instructed factory members to keep their factories shut under section 13/1 of labour act.

At a press briefing held at the BGMEA office at Uttara in Dhaka, Faruque said protestors were “vandalising factories and instigating factory workers to stage demonstrations.”

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