As garment workers strike in Dhaka, 59 companies shut down production

About 150,000 workers have been on strike for almost ten days, demanding higher wages to keep up with rising prices. Their demands, however, are likely to “put many employers out of business.” Their cause is just, but “it should not be overdone”.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – A garment workers’ strike has crippled the sector in Bangladesh for the past few days.

Labour action began on 12 December with about 150,000 workers, demanding a rise in the minimum wage to offset rising prices.

“It is always important to improve the living conditions of workers, but it should not be overdone,” a local source told AsiaNews. “This strike could put many employers out of business.”

Today 59 companies shut down their plants, stating the production would not resume until protests ended.

The strike began at Windy Apparels Limited, which is located in the Ashulia industrial belt, on the outskirts of the capital.

Workers took to the streets to demand higher wages. As days went by, they received support from thousands of fellow workers.

Protesters complain that the current minimum wage, around 5-6,000 takas (US$ 65-75), is not enough to keep up with inflation. This is why they want management to raise it to 15,000 takas (US$ 190).

This means "doubling workers’ salary, but not every company can afford it,” the source said.  

Last year, “the same happened in the state sector. Bargaining led to an increase of wages equal to twice what it was, but we do not know how many public servants actually got it."

Meanwhile, the strike’s first consequences are the shutdown of production, the occupation of the Dhaka-Tangail highway, and the dismissal of 121 workers. Windy Apparel posted the list of these "troublemakers" at the factory’s entrance.

In Bangladesh, the textile industry, in particular the production of garments for export, is a cornerstone of the economy.

The country is the second largest exporter after China. The sector, where 80 per cent of profits go to foreigners, is afflicted by major problems like poor safety standards and an highly exploited workforce.

The area affected by protests is the Savar district, the same that saw the collapse in April 2013 of the Rana Plaza industrial complex, which claimed the lives of 1,100 people.

According to the latest figures, at least 4 million Bangladeshis work in the sector.