Clean Clothes Campaign
“The increase isn't sufficient to support the basic needs of the garment workers and their families, and doesn't cover the huge increase in living costs of the recent years,” said Amin Amirul Haque of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF). “Most of these workers are the sole source of income for their families, and €1.10 a day is far below what a family of three, four or five need to survive.”
The current minimum wage in the industry stands at 1662 taka (€18) per month. It had not been reviewed since 2006 despite inflation of basic living costs running at up to 200%. Unions also point out that during the current presidency in Bangladesh, five other minimum wages have been set in other industrial sectors, none of them below 4200 taka.
According to calculations of the Asia Floor Wage campaign*, a realistic living wage for a family in Bangladesh is just over 10.000 taka. Unions had however indicated a readiness to for the time being accept a lower figure, for the greater interest of reaching a wage agreement in the garment industry.
In Bangladesh, around 2.5 million people – mostly women - are employed in the garment industry, which is the country's largest export sector and main foreign-cash earner.
The extremely low wage levels and dire working conditions have caused a lot of unrest over the last months. In June, the police violently attacked garment workers who had gone on strike to support their wage demands. According to a tally by the Bangladeshi labour-rights NGO Alternative Movement for Resources and Freedom (AMRF) Society, seventy-two incidents of labour unrest took place in the first six months of 2010, leaving at least 988 workers injured in police actions, and 45 workers were arrested.
There is also concern that the new minimum wage will not be implemented. The Bangladeshi Ministry of Commerce estimates that currently one-fourth of Bangladesh garment factories don't comply with mandatory standards on pay, working hours and conditions. According to local unions and labour-rights organisations the levels of non compliance are much higher.
There remain two weeks before the Bangladeshi government's decision after the National Wage Board recommendation. The Clean Clothes Campaign, a global network that strives to empower factory workers in the garment industry worldwide, wants the government to set the minimum wage substantially higher. “Factory workers in Bangladesh are entitled to a realistic living wage,” said Tessel Pauli of the Clean Clothes Campaign. “In addition, we urge the government to review the minimum wage on a yearly basis to incorporate rises in living costs.”
“A big responsibility also lies with companies that outsource production in Bangladesh to ensure living wages in their supply chains, or be accused of exploitation,” added Ms. Pauli.
Labour unrest has been on the increase all over Asia, typically in the countries which have major garment exports. The last months have seen protests against wages and labour conditions, with major strikes, demonstrations and protest marches in China, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka and India.