Global March member the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has called on the government of Bangladesh to support decent wages and living standards for the country’s workers, particularly in the garment sector, and to cease harassment of trade unionists and other worker-rights advocates.
Thousands of workers in the ready-made garment sector, a key industry exporting to countries around the world, protested against a government announcement in July that the minimum wage would only be increased to Taka 3,000 (around US$43) per month instead of the Taka 5,000 (around US$72) proposed by unions, and to delay implementing the increase until November this year. The ITUC is particularly concerned over arrest warrants issued against leaders of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS) who are currently in hiding. The government had already cancelled the BCWS registration as a non-governmental organisation in early June, confiscated its property and frozen its bank account. A BCWS staff member was subsequently detained and severely beaten by security police before managing to escape. Factory owners supplying some of the biggest names in global retailing are thought to be behind the repression.
“The new minimum wage of 21 US cents per hour is not enough to live on, with workers putting in extremely long hours in difficult working conditions but still unable to make ends meet. It is an absolute disgrace that this industry, worth US$12billion a year, treats its workforce with such contempt. The government should stop the harassment of those defending the fundamental rights to a living wage and to union representation, and help push the multinational companies which control the global garment industry to ensure their workers get a fair deal,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.
Prime Minister Sheik Hasina has described wages in the sector as “inhuman” in comments to the national parliament, and the government has called for unions to be established in the garment factories, which employ mainly young women.
“We are calling on the government to match its words with action, to end the appalling treatment of the millions of workers in the garment industry. They should start by immediately ceasing all actions against legitimate advocates of workers’ rights, and ensuring that the employees have the right to join and form trade unions without interference,” said Burrow.
Trade unions in the garment sector have called for proper provision of health, housing and childcare, and even rations of food staples, to supplement the meagre minimum wage as food prices continue to rise. They have also urged the government to fully respect trade union rights, noting that frustration amongst workers in the majority of factories where unions are not permitted, contributed to the levels of anger shown by many workers at the decision to hold the minimum wage below the level needed.
“These are the very reasons identified by the ILO and other organisations, including the trade union movement, that contribute to factors that push children into working as well,” said Global March Chair Kailash Satyarthi. “There is common agreement among all development agencies, civil society and trade union movements, governments, donors and other organisations that the principles of decent work underpin efforts to tackle poverty and to eliminate and prevent child labour. These workers so mistreated by their employers in the garment sector in Bangladesh will not be able to afford to send their children to school and so perpetuate the cycle of poverty. We fully support the demands of the ITUC, in particular the need to hold multinational companies responsible for violations of core labour standards throughout international supply chains.”
Source: International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), www.ituc-csi.org