ON September 14, hundreds of garment workers in Bangladesh organised a protest action against the government’s newly implemented minimum wage rate of Bangladeshi Taka (Tk) 8000. Workers, under the banner of Garment Workers’ Trade Union Centre (GWTUC), a national trade union with more than 20 factory level union, called the new wage as a ‘cruel joke’.
The workers have been long demanding a minimum wage of TK 16,000 a month. Ready made garment (RMG) industry in Bangladesh, which contribute 30.6 billion dollars to the country’s export revenues, is one of the most exploitative sector. Some of the biggest buyers of the Bangladesh RMGs are top European and north American retailers, including brands such as H&M, Walmart, Gap and Tesco.
More than 4 million workers, out which around 85% are women are employed in 5,000-7,000 factories across Bangladesh. Despite RMG sector forming the backbone of country’s economy, workers who produce these garments get nothing.
The poor working conditions of Bangladesh’s garment workers have been widely documented with the low wages, long working hours and unsafe work environment. Women workers are forced to work in the absence of basic amenities and without the proper enforcement of laws granting maternity leave and benefits. Many suffer from sexual exploitation at workplace.
In 2013, thousands of workers were killed when Raza Plaza in Savar, which housed various RMG factories collapsed. The factories were working despite various warnings about the structural weakness of the building. Earlier in November 2012, at least one hundred and twelve workers were killed after a massive fire in Tazreen garment factory.
In April this year, on the fifth year of the Raza Plaza ‘industrial massacre’, thousands of workers, trade union activists, and family members gathered at the Jurain graveyard demanding justice for the victims of Savar building collapse. Relatives of the victims continue to await for justice and compensation promised.
Despite attempts by the corporate elites and ruling government to trample the working class rights, the garment workers have vowed to intensify their struggle for their rights and justice for their fallen comrades.