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By
AFP
Published
May 3, 2010
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Bangladesh to raise garment worker wages

By
AFP
Published
May 3, 2010

DHAKA — Bangladesh will raise the minimum wage for millions of garment workers, a minister said, as workers staged another mass protest that blocked the country's main highway.


Photo: AFP

A new wage board, with union representatives, manufacturers and industry experts, has been set up to propose new basic pay levels for the country's 2.5 million garment workers, said Labour and Manpower Minister Mosharraf Hossain.

"We will hike wages within the next three months. There will be a substantial increase in wages," Hossain told AFP, adding that the board would take into account the rising cost of living due to inflation.

Bangladesh is one of the world's cheapest manufacturing destinations, with a minimum wage of around 1,700 taka (25 dollars) per month.

This rate was put in place after a string of deadly protests in 2006 left dozens killed and saw hundreds of factories vandalised or torched.

This year, protests over wages have again spilled over on the streets in the country's main industrial hubs, leading to a series of clashes with police.

On Tuesday 27 April an estimated 35,000 garment workers blocked the country's main highway between the capital Dhaka and port city of Chittagong demanding entry-level salaries be fixed at 5,000 taka.

Unions have repeatedly petitioned the government and garment manufacturers -- the country's most influential industrial group -- to raise wages to the 5,000 taka mark. They have threatened to strike until the demand is met.

Garments accounted for nearly 80 percent of Bangladesh's 15.56 billion dollars of exports last year. The country's 4,500 factories employ around 40 percent of the industrial workforce, most of them women.

Key western retailers including Wal-Mart, H & M, French giant Carrefour and Levi Strauss in January wrote to the prime minister requesting across-the-board wage increases.

Current wages are "below the poverty line" and have "contributed to unrest" among workers, the letter said.

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