The Bangladesh government made promises last week to increase the minimum wage, Reuters reported. The current minimum wage for garment workers is 3,000 taka a month ($39), which is half of the minimum wage in Vietnam and Cambodia and a quarter of China’s. Garment workers earn about $54 a month on average with overtime pay included, which is 14 percent of a living wage.
Garment workers continue to demand that the minimum wage increase to 8,000 taka ($102) a month, which is two and half times more than it is now. Factory bosses reportedly offered garment workers 3,600 taka, but several workers told Reuters that they expect the Bangladesh government to set the minimum wage at 4,500 to 5,500 taka. Inflation has been almost nine percent a year since the last minimum wage raise in 2010. The government would need to set the minimum wage at 3,877 taka to stay on par with inflation, according to Reuters. The minimum wage was last raised in 2010.
Bangladeshi workers have protested in droves after the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in April and killed over 1,000. The factory’s collapse not only set off waves of protests but garnered world attention. As many as 20,000 workers protested in May, demanding higher wages and better working conditions. About 50,000 protested in September. Protests are usually met with police violence, and over 100 factories shut down as a result of the protests in September. The government is increasing the minimum wage in order to fix the garment industry’s “image problem” Mikail Shipar, the top official at the Labour and Employment Ministry, told Reuters. A member of the independent wage board told Reuters that it would announce the minimum wage rate by next month.
The government’s announcement that it would raise the minimum wage is seen as a sign that it means business. Even after all of the protests last year, the government did not give in to demands to raise the minimum wage. Thousands of workers protested after a deadly garment factory fire killed 112 people last year. The protests were so large that about 200 factories closed for the day after a protest started in Savar, the industrial zone where the factory fire occurred. The CBC reported that protesters even blocked a major highway. A factory fire occurred on October 8, killing seven people and injuring 50.
The Bangladesh government and the International Labor Organization (ILO) announced the launch last week of a $24.21 million initiative to improve garment workers working conditions. The initiative is called Improving Working Conditions in the Ready-Made Garment Sector and it focuses on ensuring the safety of workers by minimizing threats of fire and building collapse. The initiative has been developed with government, employers’ and workers’ representatives as a result of the Rana Plaza factory collapse and the factory fires. As part of the initiative, the ILO and the International Finance Corporation also launched the Better Work program in Bangladesh, which is a partnership between government, employers, workers, international buyers and other stakeholders to help factories comply with labor laws.