Bangladesh: Labour activists reject minimum wage proposal

PRESS RELEASE:

Garment-workers unions and labour-rights organisations have reacted with indignation and disappointment at the newly-proposed increase to the minimum wage in Bangladesh' garment industry. Yesterday the National Wage Board recommended an increase of the minimum wage to 3000 Bangladeshi 'taka' (£27).

“The increase isn't sufficient to support the basic needs of the garment workers and their families, and doesn't cover the huge increase in living costs of the recent years,” said Amin Amirul Haque of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF). “Most of these workers are the sole source of income for their families, and £1 a day is far below what a family of three, four or five need to survive.”

The current minimum wage in the industry stands at 1662 taka (£15) per month. It had not been reviewed since 2006 despite inflation of basic living costs running at up to 200%. Unions also point out that during the current presidency in Bangladesh, five other minimum wages have been set in other industrial sectors, none of them below 4200 taka.

According to calculations of the Asia Floor Wage campaign, a realistic living wage for a family in Bangladesh is just over 10.000 taka. (£92) per month. Unions had however indicated a readiness to, for the time being, accept a lower figure, in order to improve the chances of reaching a wage agreement in the garment industry.

In Bangladesh, around 2.5 million people – mostly women - are employed in the garment industry, which is the country's largest export sector and main foreign-cash earner. The Bangladeshi Ministry of Commerce estimates that currently one-fourth of Bangladesh garment factories don't even comply with mandatory standards on pay, working hours and conditions. According to local unions and labour-rights organisations the levels of non compliance are much higher.

The extremely low wage levels and dire working conditions have been at the root of constant unrest in recent months. In June, the police violently attacked garment workers who had gone on strike to support their wage demands. According to a report by the Bangladeshi labour-rights NGO Alternative Movement for Resources and Freedom (AMRF) Society, seventy-two incidents of labour unrest took place in the first six months of 2010, leaving at least 988 workers injured by police actions. 45 workers have been arrested.

Two weeks remain before the Bangladeshi government will make the final decision on the minimum wage level to be set. Labour Behind the Label, a UK network that aims to support garment workers worldwide wants the government to set the minimum wage substantially higher.

“Factory workers in Bangladesh are entitled to a realistic living wage,” said Sam Maher of the UK based Labour Behind the Label. “In addition, we urge the government to review the minimum wage on a yearly basis to reflect rises in living costs.”

“A big responsibility also lies with companies that outsource production to Bangladesh to ensure living wages in their supply chains” added Ms. Maher.

Labour unrest has been on the increase all over Asia, typically in the countries which have major garment exports. The last months have seen protests against wages and labour conditions, with major strikes, demonstrations and protest marches in China, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka and India.

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Additional information for the editor(s):

Labour Behind the Label is the UK platform of the Europe-wide Clean Clothes campaign. See www.labourbehindthelabel.org for more information.

According to media reports, the Bangladesh garment sector enjoyed record sales last month, with exports reaching a historic high in June of €1.3
bn of goods of exports.

See also the Asia Floor Wage campaign, www.asiafloorwage.org; the AFW developed proposals for harmonization of Asian 'living wages' in the garment industry. The 'floor wage' is also based on the ILO concept of 'decent work'. The 2009 calculated living wage for Bangladesh is around 10.000 taka.

British companies sourcing from Bangladesh, including M&S, Tesco, Primark, Asda and NEXT have all committed to paying a living wage to workers in their supply chains. In reality few of their suppliers pay more than the legal minimum.

In 2006, Labour Behind the Label supported Bangladeshi garment-union demands to set the minimum wage at 3000 taka, see
www.cleanclothes.org/news/-2012-per-month-announced-as-bangladesh-garment-workers

 

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