TUC backs Bangladeshi textile workers' wage demands

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Solidarity with unions in Bangladesh

Textile workers and the minimum wage

7 August 2010

The TUC has joined trade unionists and campaigners around the world to demand better terms and conditions for 3.5 million Bangladeshi textile workers, who are striking and demonstrating for, among other things, a higher minimum wage of 5,000 taka a month - just £45.

The current minimum wage in Bangladesh is 1,662 taka a month - about £15. This leaves textile workers, who are making clothes for sale in the UK, US and around the world, in dire poverty. The USA is the largest single market for Bangladeshi textiles, and the EU as a whole takes a massive 57% of them.

Strikes and demonstrations over the last few weeks calling for a minimum wage of at least 5,000 taka a month have persuaded the Bangladeshi Government to announce an increase in the minimum wage to 3,000 taka, but this is clearly insufficient.

Global solidarity is beginning to weigh in on the dispute, with support especially from Unite in Britain and USW in the USA. But the Bangladeshi Government is responding with violence against protesters, jailing union leaders, and restricting access to Bangladesh by trade unionists offering solidarity.

The dispute

Despite working up to 12 hours a day, often seven days a week, the garment workers and their families are crowded into primitive one-room hovels, forced to live from hand to mouth, barely subsisting on rice and lentils. Dozens of families share one primitive hand water pump where they queue up to bathe, scrub their clothes and wash their dishes. When it rains, the thatched roofs often leak, leaving the workers and their families no choice but to sit up all night covering themselves with pieces of plastic. The garment workers' children often go hungry and lack basic school supplies. [Source]

Noting that 3,000 taka a month is not sufficient to meet the basic needs of workers, the Bangladesh National Council of Textile Garments and Leather (BNC) has called for additional measures to supplement the minimum wage, including the provision of rations of staple foods such as rice and dhal, as well as the provision of housing, childcare and healthcare facilities for garment workers. The BNC has also asked the government to legislate the new wage with immediate effect rather than waiting until November. The BNC brings together the unions in Bangladesh which belong to global union federation the International textile workers' union (ITGLWF).

Trade unionists from unions in Britain and the USA - Unite and USW - are supporting the Bangladeshi textile workers through Workers Uniting, and a delegation visited Bangladesh in July. This has now led to statements of support from the AFLCIO (the TUC's equivalent in the USA) and now the TUC as well. Unite vice-chair Steve Davison, who was part of the Workers Uniting delegation, has written about the dispute.

The Government's response: Repression and harassment

After initial attempts to split the trade unions by getting moderates to take part in the minimum wage increase to 3,000 taka, the Bangladeshi Government has resorted to violent attacks on protesters, threats to jail trade union leaders who reject the 3,000 taka proposal, and restrictions on trade unionists from abroad seeking to visit Bangladesh to offer solidarity, claiming that 'some neighbouring countries are trying to create unrest in the garment sector through workers movement.'

According to the latest reports, for example, criminal charges were filed against the staff of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) for inciting worker unrest following worker protests at Bangladeshi manufacturer Nassa Global Wear, and up to 40 trade union leaders have been remanded. 'The Bangladesh government should immediately stop their witch hunt against garment workers and their organisations,' said Tessel Pauli of the Europe-based Clean Clothes Campaign.

Further information on developments is available from LabourStart.

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