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Bangladesh factory owners snub wage proposal

Minimum wage dispute could cripple garment industry

Bangladesh factory owners snub wage proposal

Workers in Bangladesh’s US$20 billion garment industry reporter, Dhaka

November 6, 2013

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Bangladesh garment factory owners have rejected an official minimum wage proposal of 5,300 taka (US$68) and threatened to shut down their factories if their own proposal is not adopted.

In a joint press briefing in Dhaka on Tuesday, leaders of the country’s two main trade bodies – the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) – said any figure above 4,500 taka is unacceptable.

“We can’t accept the proposal, because if implemented we will lose competiveness and it will ruin the industry,” said BGMEA president Atiqul Islam.

The offer was recommended by the government-appointed Wage Board on Monday. "The board proposed this [5,300] amount after considering the arguments of both owners and workers," board chairman A.K. Roy said on Monday.

An alternative offer from the owners is to be presented to the Wage Board today.

“If it is not accepted within 15 days, the garment industry will be shut down,” Islam said.

Garment workers have staged several violent protests over pay in recent months.

In September, thousands of workers vandalized factories and battled with police, forcing the closure of hundreds of factories.

Workers in Gazipur, an industrial district near Dhaka, blocked roads and vandalized at least 10 factories on Monday, local media reported.

The garment workers of Bangladesh receive what may be the world’s lowest minimum wage. 

The 5,300 taka proposal would represent an almost 77 percent pay rise from the existing 3,000 taka minimum wage.

Initially, factory owners offered 3,600 taka but later raised that to 4,500 taka, while workers had demanded 8,100.

Labor leaders have accused the owners of being evasive. “This is nothing but a ploy. They can easily agree to the proposal, but they want to make sure workers do not ask for more,” said Babul Akhter, president of Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, a leading labor group.

He said 5,300 taka was still a low wage for a garment worker and they will urge Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to intervene and raise the minimum wage to at least 6,000 taka.

The workers' plight has fallen under the global spotlight after a series of recent disasters including the Tazreen factory fire last November and the Rana Plaza collapse in April, which together killed more than 1,200 workers.
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