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From The Socialist newspaper, 4 August 2010

Garment workers demand a living wage

Thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh took to the streets of Dhaka to dismiss the recently announced increase in the minimum wage as completely inadequate.

The increase proposed by the government's National Wage Board - from $23 a month to $43 a month - follows a period of intense struggle by garment workers who are demanding $75 a month in wages.

The new minimum wage is the maximum wage factory owners have said they are prepared to pay. Labour unions say that the cost of living has soared by 200% since the last increase in the minimum wage in 2006 which affects 2.5 million, mainly women, workers.

They say a wage of $150 a month is necessary as a living wage. Last month, police attacked striking garment workers with bamboo staves, tear gas and water cannon. Children, many of whom work illegally in the myriad of textile factories in and around Dhaka, were also beaten by police.

One estimate records 72 incidents of industrial action in the first half of 2010 with nearly 1,000 workers injured by police and 45 arrested.

Bangladesh employers, who make clothing for big western brands such as Marks and Spencer, Wal-Mart and H&M, have also hired goons to intimidate textile workers.

Bangladesh's garment exports have increased to around $12 billion a year (80% of Bangladesh's export earnings) from just $5 billion in 2002, fuelled by low labour costs that have attracted top western brands.

  • MEANWHILE, IN Cambodia police using electric batons attacked textile workers who have been on strike for one week at a Malaysian-owned factory - PCCS Garments Ltd - that produces goods for brands including Adidas, Puma and Benetton.
  • Nine female workers were left injured. Workers were incensed over the sacking by management of a union rep and had demonstrated by blocking roads in the capital city, Phnom Penh.

    Police with a court order tried to clear roads and force the workers back to work.

    The garment industry is notorious for low wages and poor working conditions. In 2009 employers laid off 30,000 textile workers, blaming the recession in the US and Europe cutting demand for goods.

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