On Tuesday, 8 November 2023, the Bangladeshi government announced the new minimum wage for garment workers: from December, they will receive 12,500 taka (around 114 US dollars) instead of the previous 8,000 taka (68 US dollars).
At first glance, the increase seems to be okay, as it is up by 56 percent. However, if one compares the monthly minimum wage in Bangladesh with that of other garment-producing countries, one can see that Bangladesh is lagging behind - even after the recent minimum wage increase:
- Cambodia - 200 US dollars
- Vietnam - 192 US dollars
- India - 165 US dollars
- China - 161 US dollars
- Bangladesh - 114 US dollars
- Pakistan - 110 US dollars
The decision came a week after the originally slated announcement date of 1st November, following weeks of sometimes violent protests in which two garment workers died. Workers and the trade unions representing them are demanding a new minimum wage of 23,000 taka (209 US dollars), which would catapult Bangladesh to the top of the list.
However, this amount was not calculated with other garment-producing countries in mind, but rather based on the social and economic situation in the country: this is how much garment workers need to cover the costs for basic needs such as food, school expenses, rent and medicine. Even with the increased amount, it will be difficult for them to rise out of poverty, forcing them to take out loans or send their children to work.
Dozens of factories were temporarily closed as a result of the protests. Labour minister Monnujan Sufian on Tuesday called on factory owners to reopen their factories and on workers to return to work.
Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of readymade garments (RMGs) after China and employs more than 4.4 million workers, 70 percent of whom are women. The RMG sector accounts for over 80 per cent of the country's total export earnings and contributes more than 11 per cent to the gross domestic product.