After waves of work protests since the garment factory collapse that killed 1,127 in April, Bangladesh’s government looks ready to follow through on one of its promises: to raise the minimum wage by about 50 to 80 percent. The government hopes to announce the raise early next month, according to Reuters, which would be the first raise since 2010.
The current minimum wage for garment workers is 3,000 taka a month, or $39, about half of the wage in Vietnam and Cambodia and a quarter of China’s. If it had kept up with inflation since the last hike, it would be 3,877 taka. Bangladeshi workers earn about $54 a month on average thanks to overtime pay, and their pay amounts to just 14 percent of a living wage.
Workers have been demanding that the wage go up to 8,000 taka, or $102 a month, two and a half times where it currently stands. While factory owners have formally offered 3,600 taka, Reuters reports that several anticipate that the government would set it in the 4,500 to 5,500 taka range. The government will also ask the retail companies that export garments from the country to pay more to help cover the cost, seeking a 5 to 15 percent price hike.
In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, Bangladeshi workers have frequently taken to the streets en masse. In May, up to 20,000 protested, demanding better pay and working conditions, and were met with violence and the shuttering of 300 factories. A protest in September that lasted for at least five days included 50,000 people, and violent police tactics to break it up left 50 hurt. While the government didn’t respond to similar strikes for higher wages last year, the tragedy seems to have added crucial pressure.
The government already kept a promise it made in the aftermath of the collapse by allowing garment workers to more easily form unions. Yet when they have tried to do so, they have been met with violence, threats, bribery, and other forms of retaliation.
Workers have also been demanding better working conditions. The tragedy was due to shoddy building materials, and three-fifths of the buildings that have been inspected since then have been found vulnerable to collapse. Seventy major retailers have signed onto a legally binding plan to upgrade the safety of the country’s factories, although other large American retailers such as Walmart and Gap have refused to sign, instead putting forward their own less binding plan.