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DHAKA – Unions in Bangladesh are calling for a trebling of the minimum wage for garment industry workers to US$192 per month, from its current US$68 which was set in 2013. The proposals have been put to Bangladesh’s recently created minimum wage board under the banner of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) along with a range of other other welfare measures for workers in the sector.

Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL regional secretary, said: “It has taken the government of Bangladesh a long time to set up the minimum wage board, and now we hope that it will take swift measures to fulfil workers’ demands. An increase in minimum wage will have a progressive impact on the standard of living, and it will also go a long way to promote decent work and the country’s economy.

“In addition to a new minimum wage, the IBC is demanding that job grades are streamlined; from seven to five, on which workers’ pay is based. They are also proposing a promotion criteria, absent in the current system, where workers in the 5th grade should be promoted to 4th grade after one year of work. Subsequently after every two years of continuous work, workers should be promoted to upper grades.”

While garment worker wages will rise significantly at some point in the coming months, any increase beyond US$100 per month is likely to be met with strong opposition from factory owners, many of whom already feel they are losing competitive ground to other low cost sourcing nations such as Myanmar and Ethiopia. There is also an awareness among factories that they will struggle to pass on increased costs to brands.

Recently Siddiqur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association (BGMEA), told local reporters: “Demand for BDT 16,000 [US$192] minimum wage is unrealistic. But we want to assure you (all) that the new wage structure will balance both the needs of a worker and the capacity of a manufacturer.

“We have to keep in mind that the 3.6 million worker force of Bangladesh is the most important part of this industry. But, we want to emphasise that no unrealistic demands are placed forward regarding the wage structure. We want to urge you all to refrain from agitating the workers.”

Image: IndustriALL

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