Bangladeshi garment workers in Dhaka call for an increase in their monthly minimum wage in this 2016 photo. (By Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)
Garment workers and trade unionists in Bangladesh have rejected a monthly minimum wage increase as insufficient, unfair and illogical.
They have staged protest rallies in the capital, Dhaka, to oppose a monthly minimum wage rise to 8,000 taka (US$95) from the existing level of 5,300 taka (US$66).
They have demanded that the minimum be increased to 16,000 taka (US$188).
On Sept. 13, Mujibul Haque, the state minister for Labor and Employment, announced the wage hike at a media briefing after a final meeting of the nation's Wage Board that includes representatives of workers, employers and the government.
The minimum wage was fixed at 5,300 taka in 2013, up from 3,000 taka in 2010.
However, Monzur Moni, International Affairs secretary of the Dhaka-based Garment Workers' Trade Union Center, complained that the new pay rate is unfair and unacceptable.
A government office cleaner would receive 17,500 taka monthly and a ship breaking worker 16,000 taka compared to garment workers only being offered a minimum of 8,000 taka.
"This is injustice," Moni said, adding that this sector of the labor force had long been neglected.
"Bangladeshi workers get the lowest wages in the world," he told ucanews.com.
"Owners are simply looters and they are making a mountain of money by exploiting workers."
Atique Rahman, 34, a machine operator for five years in a garment factory in Gazipur, an industrial hub near Dhaka, makes about 7,000 taka monthly. Rahman's wife is also a garment worker and she receives 6,000 taka per month.
"Our income is not enough to maintain my five-member family including three children," Rahman said.
"Every month, we struggle very hard after paying for house rent, food and the education of our children."
The family also sends money to their home village to support their aging parents.
The announced new wage levels were disproportionate and did not take into account the plight of poor workers, Rahman said.
Holy cross Father Liton Hubert Gomes, secretary of the Peace and Justice Commission in Dhaka Archdiocese, welcomed the wage increase, but added that it was still inadequate.
"The wage hike is a positive sign that the government is keeping an eye on garment workers," Father Gomes said.
"But I am sure that an 8,000 taka monthly wage is not enough for a family."
The priest noted that no study had been done to compare garment owners' profit levels to wages before the new minimum was set.
"Through a study to get the whole picture of owners' profits and expenses, and workers living conditions, I believe the government could make the right decision on how much salary workers deserve," the priest added.
Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, described the new minimum pay provision as fair.
"Workers demand more salary and this is normal," he said.
"But they need to think about owners too."
Siddiqur Rahman said that higher pay rates would damage the garment production sector.
Bangladesh's US$25 billion export-oriented garment industry is the second largest in the world after China.
The industry employs four million workers, mostly poor rural women, and accounts for 80 percent of the nation's foreign exchange income.
However, the industry is plagued by notoriously poor labor practices and hazardous working conditions that led to a series of accidents, including fires and building collapses.
In the worst case, in 2013, the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed killing more than 1,100 workers and injuring thousands more.
That tragedy sparked a global outcry and calls for reformed safety standards.