Bangladesh garment workers wages to rise

May 13, 2013 at 2:01 AM
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DHAKA, Bangladesh, May 13 (UPI) -- The Bangladeshi government plans to raise the wages of millions of garment workers, whose lot came to light after the recent building collapse catastrophe.

Textiles Minister Abdul Latif Siddique said Sunday the government will set up a new minimum wage board with the new wage structure to take effect retroactively to May 1, The Bangladesh Daily Star reported.

Details were not provided but Siddique said the decision was made by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the report said.

The current monthly minimum wage of 3,000 taka (about $39) for a worker was fixed in November 2010, up from 1,662 taka before that, the Star reported.

A U.N. expert group says there are between 3 million and 5 million garment workers in Bangladesh, where the clothing industry not only is a major employer but a key exporter, providing one of the main sources of foreign exchange for the country.

The wage increase move comes as the death toll from the collapse of the multi-story Rana Plaza building outside the capital Dhaka, which had housed several garment factories, crossed 1,100, making it one of the world's worst such disasters.

Meanwhile, Reshma, a 19-year-old woman who miraculously survived for 16 days under the rubble before being rescued last week, was recovering, her doctors said.

The decision to set up the wage board was approved by garment factory owners, who initially expressed concern, saying they cannot afford the raises as their business has been hit both by political unrest at home and the global recession, the Star reported.

"If the wage board recommends increasing salaries from May 1, we will do that," Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, was quoted as saying.

Last week, the United Nations' working group on business and human rights urged global clothing brands to work with Bangladesh, international organizations and civil society to improve working conditions in the country's garment sector.

"We strongly urge international clothing brands sourcing from Bangladesh to address human rights risks in their supply chains with the involvement of workers, other relevant stakeholders, and human rights experts, and to share publicly what they are doing to mitigate their risks," said Pavel Sulyandziga, head of the group.

He said if they are linked with negative impact on human rights through their suppliers, "they have the responsibility to exercise their leverage as buyers to try to effect change."

The group said several of the factories operating in the Rana Plaza building had reportedly been audited in the past, but these audits either overlooked or excluded altogether the structural problems with the building.

In other developments, the Star reported Monday that the likelihood of finding more bodies under the building's rubble had narrowed as rescue operations entered the final stage.

"The front side of the basement is waterlogged. Once we remove the water, we will be able to clearly see whether anybody is still trapped in the basement. I hope it will not take much time to finish the job," Brig Gen. Azmal Kabir, commander of a 14-member engineer brigade told the Star.

The death toll as of Sunday stood at 1,127, the report said. Many of the bodies have decomposed, making identification difficult. The Star said so far at least 234 unidentified bodies have been buried, but scores of people stayed on at the site, looking for their loved ones.

As regards Reshma, who was rescued last Friday after she had remained trapped under the rubble for 16 days, her miraculous survival continued to baffle rescuers.

A spokesman at a military hospital near Dhaka said Reshma was recovering but she needs more rest and sleep.

CNN, quoting experts and rescue officials, said a well-placed pool of water and an air pocket may have helped her survive the terrible ordeal.

Rescue officials found Reshma in that pool of water, Lt. Col. Moazzem Hossain told CNN. The pool might have been created by rainwater or water from rescuers' sprayers.

Another official was quoted as saying Reshma used an iron rod to get rescuers' attention and cry out to them, "I'm alive. Please rescue me."

She also reportedly was in a partially collapsed room and had access to an air pocket, the report said. Her young age also might have been a factor in her favor.

CNN, quoting the BSS news agency, said Sadekul, a rickshaw driver and one of Reshma's four siblings, visited her over the weekend. He said she was happy to see him and later began crying.

Operations at about 20 garment factories have been ordered suspended since the building collapse. Bangladeshi authorities also have arrested a number of people in the catastrophe.

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