published : 2023-11-07

Bangladesh Raises Garment Workers' Monthly Minimum Wage Amid Protests

Increase from previous $75 per month still decried by some labor groups as too small

A group of garment workers protesting for higher wages in Bangladesh, captured with a Nikon D850.

Authorities in Bangladesh have announced a new salary structure for garment factory workers, increasing the monthly minimum wage by 56% to $113 from the previous $75. The decision, however, has been met with criticism from some workers' groups who believe it is still too small.

The announcement was made by State Minister for Labor and Employment, Monnujan Sufian, after a meeting of a government-formed wage board consisting of representatives from the factory owners and workers. The new pay structure is set to take effect from December 1.

The decision comes in response to weeks of violent protests by workers demanding a monthly minimum wage of $208. These protests have seen workers taking to the streets, attacking factories, clashing with the police, and even burning vehicles.

Kalpona Akter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, addressing a crowd during the protests, taken with a Canon 5D Mark IV.

In 2018, the last increase in the minimum wage was implemented, and now workers argue that they are forced to work overtime to make ends meet. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association had offered a 25% increase to $90, which initially sparked the protests.

Bangladesh, being the second largest garment-producing country after China, houses nearly 3,500 factories employing around 4 million workers, predominantly women. Factory owners claim to be under pressure as global brands from Western countries are offering them less, while they also face rising production costs due to higher energy prices and transportation expenses.

The increase in wages is seen by some as a step in the right direction, but labor groups argue that influential factory owners should be doing more for the well-being of the workers. President of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, Kalpona Akter, expressed frustration over the perceived insignificance of the wage increase and highlighted the struggle faced by workers amidst rising commodity prices.

Factory owners and worker representatives engage in a heated discussion during the meeting of the government-formed wage board. Photo taken with a Sony A7 III.

With garment exports contributing to Bangladesh's annual earnings of about $55 billion, predominantly from the United States and Europe, the country is now exploring new markets such as Japan, China, and India.

This wage increase, while falling short of the demands of some labor groups, marks a significant development in the ongoing struggle for fair wages and better working conditions in Bangladesh's garment industry. The impact of this decision on the workers and the industry as a whole remains to be seen.