Garment unions swiftly rejected a 56% hike to the minimum wage that Bangladesh’s government set on Tuesday after days of violent protests and factory shutdowns where striking workers demanded a near-tripling of their pay.
The new minimum monthly wage for garment factory workers has been fixed at 12,500 taka ($113), up from the previous 8,300 taka ($75), according to Raisha Afroz, the board secretary of a government-appointed wage board.
But the decision was met with resistance by some workers’ groups who said it was below their expectations and did not reflect the rising cost of living in the country.
“This is unacceptable. This is very frustrating. We can’t accept this,” said Kalpona Akter, head of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation.
Bangladesh is the second largest garment-producing country in the world after China with nearly 3,500 factories employing about 4 million workers, most of them women, according to the manufacturers’ association. It annually earns about $55 billion from exports of garment products, mainly to the United States and Europe.
But conditions are dire for many of the sector’s workers, who say they need to work overtime to make ends meet. Workers have gone on strike to demand a $208 monthly minimum wage, with violent scenes in recent days, while employers offered 25 percent.
The protests have coincided with separate violent demonstrations by opposition parties demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ahead of elections due in January.
The last increase in the minimum wage was announced in 2018. Workers say they have been affected by inflation and a cost of living crisis triggered by the taka depreciating about 30 percent against the US dollar since early last year.
Factory owners say they are under pressure because global brands in Western countries are offering less than before. They also cite higher energy prices and transportation costs as factors that affect their profitability.
The government hopes the new wage structure will end the unrest and restore normalcy in the garment sector, which is vital for the country’s economy. But some union leaders have warned of tougher demonstrations if their demands are not met.