Bangladesh police used rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas against thousands of garment factory workers this Wednesday, after they tried to block a road leading to Dhaka’s international airport on the fourth consecutive day of protests demanding an increase in the minimum wage. Yesterday, one worker was fatally shot and dozens of others were injured, according to reports by news agencies Reuters and Associated Press.
The Ministry of Labor and employment announced in September that the country’s minimum wage would be increased from 5,300 taka (approximately 63 US dollars) a month to 8,000 taka (95 US dollars) from December -- the first such increase since 2013. But protesters argue that not only is the raise insufficient to compensate for price rises in recent years, but garment factories have also failed to implement it so far.
A panel comprised of factory owners, union leaders and government officials was formed on Tuesday to try to solve the situation, but that hasn’t stopped the workers from taking the streets for a fourth day.
Police clashes with Bangladeshi garment workers demanding living wage
The Bangladeshi economy is heavily dependent on apparel exports, which generated some 30 billion US dollars in 2017. While some fashion companies have turned to Turkey and Mexico following the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster, when a garment factory in Dhaka collapsed killing 1134 workers, Bangladesh remains the world’s second biggest garment exporter, according to the World Trade Organization.
Low costs are the main thing attracting foreign fashion companies to Bangladesh, which is why the government and factory owners seem resistant to implementing measures to guarantee workplace safety and a living wage for workers.
Last year, the High Court of Bangladesh ordered the Bangladesh Accord, an initiative set up by more than 200 apparel companies to improve workplace safety, to stop its operations and leave the country by the end of November. At the time, the government said the Accord was no longer needed because no major accidents have happened in the country’s apparel factories since Rana Plaza. It also claimed that the Remediation Coordination Cell, a national regulatory body, is fully capable of taking over the work done by the Accord until now. The Accord appealed the decision, and the next court hearing is scheduled for January 21.
Photo: Clean Clothes Campaign; Kristof Vadino via Maquila Solidarity Network