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Eighty Bangladeshi Factories Close in Fear of Protests; Wage Board Recommendation Settles Nothing

Even after Bangladesh’s specially convened Wage Board has come to a resolution, the often tempestuous dispute over the minimum wage continues unabated.

On Tuesday, November 5, nearly eighty factories shuttered their operations in anticipation of massive labor protests. The factories are largely located in Ashulia, Savar and Gazipur.

Mr. Jabbar, managing director of the DBL Group, a prominent garment company, explained, “I have closed down five of my units at Kashimpur fearing unrest. I will reopen then once I hear of the government and BGMEA’s final decision on the minimum wage.”

After months of tense disputes often marred by violence, garment factory workers and factory owners have finally come to a resolution over the minimum wage. A special ad hoc panel convened by the government has decided to increase the minimum wage to about 5,300 takas ($68) per month, a 77 percent increase from the previous benchmark of 3,000 takas ($38).

However, it’s clearly too early for other side to commence celebrations. The Ministry of Labor still has to approve what only amounts to a non-binding recommendation. Kalpona Akter, the executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, a non-governmental activist group that represents workers, has already voiced complaints that the wages will still be the lowest in the world. Also, Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, also made clear that his organization has yet to accept the wage increase.

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Riots have roiled Gazipur, closing down fifteen factories. Throngs of angry workers have reportedly broken the windows in at least twenty buildings, also vandalizing cars. Apparently, they are demanding a wage hike to at least 8,000 takas (about $103).

Atiqul Islam, president of the BGMEA, expressed hopes that a final meeting scheduled for November 11, involving both the labor and employment minister, will reach a conclusive resolution. “We are expecting a decision from the government in the meeting,” he said.

Islam also confided that he was skeptical the current recommendation from the Wage Board of a minimum wage of 5,300 takas a month (approximately $68) was realistically implementable. “We need a win-win situation. The board has imposed the recommendation on us–the industry will not be able to sustain the recommended salary structure.”

But labor representatives have argued that the recommendation must be accepted. Sirajul Islam Rony, the workers’ representative on the Wage Board, said, “They should just accept it. The minimum wage would have to be raised at some point-be it today or tomorrow.

Historically, a wage board assembles every five years to revisit the issue of compensation for workers. Given the ferment surrounding labor conditions in Bangladesh, especially in the still hot contrails of the Rana Plaza tragedy, the government decided it would be prudent to meet earlier than scheduled.