Press release: UK union leaders call for Bangladesh minimum wage boost and condemn police violence

by | Nov 1, 2023 | Blog, Press release

For immediate release, 1 November 2023

  • General secretaries of 15 major UK trade unions issue call on the Government of Bangladesh to set a 23,000 taka (£172) monthly minimum wage for Bangladeshi garment workers [1]

  • Violence and unrest rising on the streets of Dhaka and Gazipur, as police clash with protesting workers – 2 dead and a number of union leaders arrested [2]

  • UK unions and NGOs condemn the violence and call on Bangladesh officials to protect worker lives and freedoms.

Amid rising unrest and repression of garment union representatives in Bangladesh, UK unions and NGOs have issued a letter calling on the Government of Bangladesh to urgently set the minimum wage for garment workers at a liveable level, and stop the violence.

Reports say that tens of thousands of garment workers have been protesting on the streets since Tuesday, clashing with police in Gazipur and Dhaka. Officers used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds of factory workers, who were blocking roads near factories producing clothing for major western brands. Two workers have been killed by police [3].

The currently monthly minimum stands at just 8,000 taka or £60 a month, last revised in 2018, which workers report is so low they have to skip meals to survive. Protests started last week after the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) put forward proposals for the new monthly minimum wage to be set at 10,400 taka (£78) – less than half of the trade unions’ demand of 23,000 (£172). The wage board convened again today (1 November), but no conclusion was declared. The employers have committed to return with a revised offer in a week [4].

Anna Bryher, Policy Lead at the human rights charity Labour Behind the Label said: “These protests can only be seen as a consequence of the desperate need for wage to be set that people can survive on and a lack of faith in the wage revision process to deliver this.

While workers risk their lives to voice the need for a bare minimum liveable wage, fashion brands sourcing from Bangladesh have remained silent. Without brands expressing a commitment to pay prices that cover significantly increased wages and condemning the violence, what hope is there? Their silence is ensuring poverty, and legitimising the undemocratic environment in which the wage revision is taking place.”

Labour Behind the Label further expressed concerns about a repetition of the heavy-handed police retaliation against protesting workers that took place in Bangladesh five years ago during the previous wage revision. Three trade union officials have so far been arrested [5] and union organisers have reported pre-emptive information gathering visits from secret police, further stoking fears of union repression.

Stephen Russell, Senior International Officer at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said:

“It beggars belief that the Government of Bangladesh would still rather kill and imprison trade unionists than just sit down to negotiate with them. It’s just a few years since it agreed a roadmap at the ILO to respect union rights – but the government has betrayed workers yet again.

The TUC stands in solidarity with unions in Bangladesh, whose members shouldn’t have to risk their lives just to demand an adequate minimum wage.”

Garment worker rights groups No Sweat, War on Want, Remake and Labour Behind the Label delivered the letter signed by around 500 UK Trade Unions, NGOs and individuals to the Bangladesh High Commission on Monday calling for the workers’ demand for a 23,000 taka minimum wage to be met, and condemning violence against unions and workers. Officials accepted the letter at the door and committed to pass its contents on [6].


Notes for editors:

For press enquiries please contact Anna Bryher, Policy Lead at Labour Behind the Label: anna@labourbehindthelabel.org // press@labourbehindthelabel.org // +44 7786 832 035

[1] https://labourbehindthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/Letter-to-Bangladesh-Embassy-on-23000-taka-minimum-wage-with-Logos.pdf

[2] https://apnews.com/article/bangladesh-garment-workers-protest-minimum-wage-928de69317e2f39911987f9369285bdf

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-67273559

[4] https://www.tbsnews.net/economy/rmg/factory-owners-agree-raise-minimum-wage-rmg-workers-above-their-own-proposal-731082

[5] https://www.industriall-union.org/worker-shot-dead-by-police-as-minimum-wage-protests-intensify-in-bangladesh

[6] Photos including an image of the letter being handed in:


Please credit Labour Behind the Label