Even after the Bangladesh Ministry of Labor officially signed off on the new minimum wage recommendations from the ad hoc Wage Board, simmering tensions have failed to subside. More than 2,000 garment factory workers took to the streets in Gazipur, violently demanding that recently shuttered factories reopen and that wage increases take immediate effect.
The scene quickly descended into bedlam as an additional 8,000 workers joined the swelling crowd of angry protesters. Cars were torched, trees felled and the Kashimpur-Konabari road blocked. The police were ill equipped to quell the implacable crowd and called in paramilitary forces for emergency assistance.
Workers, mostly from the Standard Group factories, clashed openly with police in the streets, injuring at least twenty-five people. Vandalism was rampant; at least thirty stores were set ablaze, more than 200 defaced. In an attempt to push back the advancing protesters, police fired teargas shells and water cannons into the crowd.
The workers had a list of ten demands, including pay for the seasons when the factories are closed. Many are flummoxed that such violence continues even after a historic resolution regarding the minimum wage was brokered between factory workers and owners, brokered by Prime Minister Hasina.
After months of contentious wrangling between factory owners and workers, Bangladesh’s government has finally agreed upon a new salary structure, effective December 1. Labor Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju announced that the new minimum wage will be set at 5,300 taka ($68) per month, a massive 77 percent increase.
The factory owners, represented by the Bangladesh Manufacturers and Garment Exporters Association (BGMEA), resisted the new wage level, attempting to negotiate it down to 4,500 taka (approximately $58). However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina intervened and convinced them to yield to the Wage Board’s recommendation.
Labor Secretary Mikail Shipar said, “During the meeting, the Prime Minister ordered them to implement the new minimum wages of 5,300 taka from December. And they’ve agreed to implement the pay hike.”
The violence is leading many experts to wonder if, rather than bringing a conclusion to civil unrest, the newly minted salary structure will only stoke the embers of further conflict. While a final compromise was reached both sides expressed some disappointment with the specifics of the deal. In particular, the factory owners only capitulated begrudgingly. Speaking to the AFP, Reaz-Bin Mahmood, the vice president of the BGMEA, said, “We have accepted the wage board decision following the Prime Minister’s request. But it’ll be difficult for many of us to raise the wages, if the Western retailers don’t hike order prices by 10% to 15%.”