A year ago, tens of thousands of workers in Bangladesh went on strike against the poverty wages that are pervasive in the country’s export-oriented garment industry. On 13 January 2019, a minimal wage revision was announced that, together with massive repression, led workers to end the demonstrations that had been going on since December. Thousands of workers were unable to go back to work, however, facing punishment for their peaceful protest through politically-motivated dismissals, blacklisting, and criminal charges. Public pressure has in the past weeks and months led to withdrawal of at least five criminal cases. Nevertheless, one year on, hundreds of workers continue to face the threat of serving time in prison for trumped-up and retaliatory charges.
Garment workers in Bangladesh had waited for five years for the minimum wage increase that went into effect at the end of 2018, while living costs continued to rise. The long-awaited wage review process of 2018 turned out to be lengthy, problematic, and insufficiently open to worker participation. The new minimum wage level (8,000 taka/85 euro) that was ultimately announced amounted to only half of the unions’ unified demand of 16,000 taka, a demand which still fell short of living wage calculations for Bangladesh. While this meant a 2,700 taka increase for those earning the minimum wage, most workers in higher pay grades received a more limited raise. When in December 2018 workers saw what the wage hike actually amounted to in their pay checks, tens of thousands of them took to the streets.