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Bangladesh unions reject $95 minimum wage for garment workers

Authorities said the new wage marked a 51% rise and would be applied from December but hundreds of workers hit the streets of Dhaka within hours of the announcement vowing to fight for more.

Activists from Bangladeshi garments organisation hold a rally in Dhaka on 14 September 2018. Picture: AFP

DHAKA - Bangladesh unions staged street protests Friday to reject what they called an "inhuman" $95 (R1,408) a month minimum wage fixed by the government for the country's four million garment workers.

Authorities said the new wage marked a 51% rise and would be applied from December but hundreds of workers hit the streets of Dhaka within hours of the announcement vowing to fight for more.

Unions said they would organise action across Bangladesh.

The current minimum wage of $63 (R934) was set in 2013 after at least 1,130 people were killed when the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka collapsed. The new wage was set at 8,000 taka.

"We can't accept this salary. It is an injustice and inhuman. It is cheating the workers," Jolly Talukder, a top union leader, told AFP.

Talukder's group is one of three leftist outfits that staged protests in Dhaka and she said more were planned to demand a wage of at least 16,000 taka.

Another union leader Babul Akter told AFP almost all unions, except pro-government groups, had rejected the new wage set after months of negotiations.

Bangladesh is one of the world's leading garment manufacturers and last year its 4,500 factories shipped $30 billion worth of goods, accounting for more than 80% of the country's exports.

Top European and North American retailers such as H&M, Tesco, Gap and Walmart are the main buyers.

The retailers have set up two organisations to push through reforms in Bangladesh factories after the Rana Plaza disaster.

But Bangladeshi manufacturers say many retailers have not increased the price they pay for clothes, which keeps factory wages down.

Bangladesh unions have been staging protests for higher salaries for years.

In December 2016, one of their largest protests was brutally ended by police, with hundreds of workers and union activists detained and charged with violence while more than 1,500 workers were sacked.

The US-based Fair Labour Association monitoring group said in a report in April that Bangladesh garment workers earned lower wages than any other major garment exporting country and rely on excessive overtime to survive.

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