Thousands of Bangladeshi Workers Fired after Protesting Low Wages
Following weeks of numerous workers’ protests in Bangladesh, union leaders have accused at least three notable Bangladeshi garment manufacturers of laying off thousands of employees. The Bangladeshi companies supply garments to European brands, such as H&M and Next, among others.
Approximately 5,000 workers have already lost their jobs for demanding higher wages in Bangladesh, a country notorious for underpaying employees in its enormous garment manufacturing sector, officially declared the world’s second largest garment industry in 2014.
Babul Akhter, the head of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, told Drapers that at least 7,580 workers from 27 factories had lost their jobs in the weeks since protests began.
In early January, 50,000 workers staged a strike, walking out of their factories in the morning to demand higher wages. The protest occurred in Savar, a town right outside of the nation’s capital highly concentrated in factories. About 10,000 of these workers blocked a major highway, and in response, police used water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets to force the workers to move. One worker died in the protest, and 50 others were injured.
Workers’ anger broke through the surface following the government’s decision in November to raise the monthly minimum wage from 5,300 takas ($63) to 8,000 takas ($96). Workers’ unions and labor rights groups had anticipated a much greater increase in wages, with some calling for the minimum wage to be established at the equivalent of $193 a month, and many argued that the pay increase would not be enough to compete with increased prices. Most campaigners agree that Bangladeshi workers need at least 16,000 taka ( approximately $191) a month to live comfortably, which forces workers to work overtime in order to receive the pay they need to sustain their lifestyles.
In addition to protesting low wages, workers also rebuked the lack of safety precautions in their factories. On April 24, 2013, Bangladesh faced its worst industrial disaster when the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Savar, killing over 1,000 people in a matter of 90 seconds.
Bangladesh was forced to respond to the devastating incident promptly through pressure from international powers and internal workers’ rights groups. According to The Guardian, two distinct initiatives were drafted to protect workers’ safety - the Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Approximately 250 companies signed the Accord and the Alliance, and both have been labelled as extremely successful in improving safety in Bangladeshi factories thus far.
However, both the Accord and the Alliance end their terms this year. The fate of the Accord, the more constraining restriction of the two, hangs in the balance. The government plans to have its national regulatory committee - the RCC (Remediation and Coordination Cell) - assume the responsibility of inspecting factory buildings that was formerly attributed to the Accord. However, people within and outside of Bangladesh fear that the government is not prepared to adequately handle this responsibility.
Currently, Bangladesh is embroiled in a battle uniquely caused by economic globalization. To continue supplying materials to European companies at cheap prices, Bangladeshi garment manufacturers are motivated to underpay their workers. However, the anger of Bangladeshi workers is undeniably making an internationally recognized impact. In the coming weeks, the government of Bangladesh will be tasked with ensuring that the human rights of its nation’s workers are not violated.