DHAKA: Bangladesh’s garment factories resumed operations as hundreds of thousands of workers returned to key manufacturing hubs following days of intense protests calling for a nearly threefold increase in the minimum wage.
The country has witnessed its most significant labor unrest in a decade, with tens of thousands of workers advocating for a minimum monthly wage of 23,000 taka ($208), a substantial rise from the government-set 8,300 taka five years ago.
The garment industry, comprising 3,500 factories and contributing around 85 percent of the country’s $55 billion annual exports, faced disruptions as workers clashed with police over their demands. Despite a recent 56.25 percent wage increase to 12,500 taka by a government-appointed panel, workers rejected the offer, leading to further protests and the ransacking of at least 70 factories.
Top union leader Babul Akhter reiterated the demand for a 23,000 taka minimum wage but urged workers to return to factories. The resumption of operations followed talks between manufacturers and workers in trouble-spots like Ashulia and Gazipur. Despite previous violence that resulted in four worker deaths and numerous arrests, authorities reported a peaceful reopening of factories.
While the government has rejected additional wage hikes, concerns have been raised by rights groups over the dire conditions faced by many workers, including challenges related to food, housing, education, and healthcare costs. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned that prolonged protests could lead to job losses, emphasizing the delicate balance between labour demands and economic stability.