Bangladeshi garment workers need a significant
Labour Behind the Label is campaigning in support of a wage increase in Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi unions’ 23,000 taka minimum wage demand.
For the first time in five years, the Bangladeshi government has formed a Wage Board to revise the minimum wage for the country’s ready made garment sector, which employs roughly 4 million workers.
The current minimum wage of 8,000 taka (roughly £57 a month) was already insufficient for a decent living when it came into force in 2019. Since then, workers have had to endure the additional pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent high inflation without seeing their wages increase at all.
A new monthly minimum wage demand of 23,000 taka (£164 approximately) has been calculated based on an extensive cost of living study done by the Bangladesh Institute for Labour Studies and has been unanimously supported by trade unions in the country as well as the IndustriALL global union. Clean Clothes Campaign partners in Bangladesh do not hold seats in the Wage Board, and neither do any other independent trade unions, but they will organise local campaign actions to voice this demand.
This year’s minimum wage revision takes place at a difficult time for the Bangladeshi labour rights movement. The recent murder of trade unionist Shahidul Islam is a stark reminder of the incredibly repressive environment in which wage negotiations take place. In the past, the minimum wage revisions led to a shocking amount of turmoil. In 2018 one worker was killed, dozens were left injured and thousands lost their jobs.
Labour Behind the Label stands in solidarity with unions in Bangladesh fighting for a higher and more just minimum wage. We urge all involved parties to respect the right of trade unions to peacefully and collectively campaign for their wage demands.
Why are wages so low?
The Bangladesh textile industry has long marketed itself based on its low pricing. Fierce competition with other Asian economies, and downward pressure from brands’ purchasing practices, have suppressed wages in Bangladesh year on year. The Bangladesh labour law only requires the wage board to convene once every 5 years. This has led to very slow wage growth. Unionisation rates are also low due to the active suppression of freedom of association, by employers and by state actors. So when unions come to the table their power to achieve change is limited.
A new wage is desperately needed. Official Consumer Price Index inflation rates show an increase in recent months of than 9%. Unofficial predictions however are much more abnormal. Some of the main food prices have increased by nearly 100%. Current average take home pay (around 12800 taka, including overtime) is more than 10% less than the national poverty line.