Even though the government of Bangladesh was able to announce an increase in the minimum wage for garment workers (to 3,000 Takas a month), they may find it difficult to implement it in time for it to make a difference. The primary reason that the minimum wage increase was forced through was in response to the increasing combativity of the Bangladeshi textile workers who held strikes through July and early August. The rhetoric of the labor minister and the minister for industry has been about “law and order” issues in the garment factories. Sheikh Hasina is allowed to make her populist hand-wringing pleas about the poverty that the garment workers face, but the majority of the Awami League is allied to the factory owners and is enforcing their will.
So now the government faces two problems. It needed the minimum wage increase in order to ensure peace in the textile factories, but those increases aren’t going to happen until November which means that going back to work will be a bitter pill to swallow for most workers who went out on strike. In order to move things along, there have been meetings between the chief organization of the garment factory owners (the BGMEA and the BKMEA) and the state to try to get them to implement the wage increases earlier, but this is likely to fall on deaf ears. Already one section of the factory owners is challenging the minimum wage increase as an unfair burden and wants to overturn the law. The Bangladeshi Financial Express published an editorial piece challenging the logic of the minimum wage increases.
“According to analysts the annual bill for the increased [w]ages will be in the region of $ 1.0 billion taking up roughly 12% of the total export number of $ 12 billion. Even though the disorganised but massive industry hasn’t quite got it right in projecting its’ ducks in a row there is no secret that there are other increased costs that it is having to take on in the form of infrastructure, power, delivery delays and the spiralling cost of raw materials. The squeeze from the other side is the incessant pressure to be compliant-that comes at a cost and reduction in the prices. While the pressure for reduced prices is nothing new matters have been exacerbated by the decline in demand fuelled by the economic downturn in the developed countries.”
The bosses want the state to pick up more of the tab by increasing the amount of government subsidies given to textile workers (health care, housing, etc.).
Another section of the factory owners is projecting an air of liberal confidence, arguing that the minimum wage increase will have no effect on the industry since all of the costs can be defrayed onto buyers.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh is still getting quite a bit of international attention for its garment industry woes, as the EU and the AFL-CIO have been attempting to pressure the government to release striking workers from prison and raise the minimum wage sooner.
There have been no reports in the news about what the labor movement is doing right now, though I suspect that there is quite a bit of regrouping to handle the repression that they have faced and new discussions about strategies that are going on. The real question will be how soon the textile workers unions can organize a fight back (it took four years for them to organize this round of action after recovering from the repression that they faced in 2006 from other strike actions).
In the meantime, the general economic woes in Bangladesh are finding an expression in cinema. I don’t know much about Biplob’s work, but I think that I’m going to see if the library carries any of his films and check them out.