Bangladesh Garment Workers May Finally Get a Raise

More than a month after Bangladeshi garment workers began violently striking for higher wages, a wage board in Bangladesh has proposed a concrete pay increase.

Not only do Bangladeshi garment workers earn the lowest wages in the world — the current minimum wage is 3,000 taka, which comes to about $38 a month — but they work in incredibly unsafe conditions, a fact that has drawn increasing international attention after April's Rana Plaza collapse and October's apparel factory fire. The garment industry has seen mounting pressure from workers and activist groups to increase wages and improve working conditions, and the wage board has been attempting to hit upon that infamously impossible number: One that pleases everyone.

Striking workers are demanding a new monthly wage of 8,112 taka, which comes to $102, but factory owners are unwilling to fork out this much. On Monday, the wage board proposed a figure almost exactly halfway between the current minimum wage and the requested wage: 5,300 taka, or $68 a month.

The new figure represents a 77 percent pay increase, but it's still significantly less than the workers have been demanding. According to the New York Times, labor leaders say that the amount is still not enough to cover workers' basic needs. In true catch-22 fashion, the factory leaders are equally displeased at the prospect of having to pay workers the board's proposed number.

The Ministry of Labour and Employment must approve the final amount, and they may advise raising or lowering the board's proposed wage. Bangladeshi elections are looming, which will factor into the Ministry's decision, as votes from both the factory owners and the thousands of angry workers hang in the balance.

The process will certainly drag on for a while longer, and total resolution may be a pipe dream. But it's a start, and at least there's a dialogue happening now, after so much unethical business.