x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Bangladesh to raise garment workers' minimum wages

A typical Bangladeshi garment worker takes home less than Dh140 a month, a wage that Pope Francis has condemned as akin to slave labour.

DHAKA // Bangladesh set up a panel to raise the minimum wage for millions of garment workers yesterday as the death toll from the collapse of a factory climbed past 1,120.

The panel was created after workers at the country's garment-manufacturing hub of Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital left their factories en masse yesterday to demand an increase in wages.

A typical Bangladeshi garment worker takes home less than Dh140 a month, a wage that Pope Francis has condemned as akin to slave labour. Their minimum wage was last raised - by 80 per cent - in November 2010.

"We've set up a minimum wage board for the garment sector. We did it in view of the workers' demand to hike their salaries," the textile minister Abdul Latif Siddique said.

The panel will include union representatives as well as factory owners.

"There is no doubt the salaries will be hiked," he said.

The announcement came as the death toll from the country's worst industrial disaster climbed to 1,126, 19 days after a nine-storey garment factory complex in a suburb of Dhaka caved in and buried thousands of workers.

"Up to 30 factories suspended production for the day as tens of thousands of workers refused to work," said Shyamol Kumar Mukharjee, a police official in Dhaka.

They also demanded the death penalty for Sohel Rana, the owner of the collapsed Rana Plaza complex, who was arrested at Bangladesh's main border crossing with India after a four-day manhunt last month.

He is accused of forcing labourers to work on April 24, the day of the collapse, even though cracks appeared in the building a day before.

Mr Rana, a low-level official from the ruling Awami League party, is also accused of breaking construction laws by allowing factories to operate inside a commercial building designed for shops and banks.

The confirmed death toll in the Rana Plaza collapse was 1,126 yesterday and could still rise as cranes and bulldozers have yet to move all the rubble.

The nine-storey complex in the town of Savar, a suburb of Dhaka, made clothing for Western retailers including Britain's Primark, Spain's Mango and the Italian chain Benetton.

The government announced a high-level panel last week to inspect thousands of garment factories for building flaws, amid fears that Western labels would turn their backs on Bangladesh after a series of deadly accidents.

Last Thursday a garment factory fire in Dhaka killed eight people. Another fire last November killed 111 garment workers, the worst blaze in the history of the country's textile industry.

A total of 2,438 people were rescued from the ruins of Rana Plaze, which housed five garment factories.

An eighteen-year-old known only as Reshma was the last to be pulled out alive on Friday after she spent 17 days under the rubble. Doctors said she was recovering at a military hospital and was out of danger.

"She is fine and improving fast. I talked to her just a few minutes back. She said she had a good sleep and had her breakfast," Fakrul Islam said.

Dr Islam, who is part of the medical team treating the seamstress, said: "Her mother also spent the night with her in the bed next to her. She'll be staying with her until she recuperates fully."