Bangladesh govt vows to raise pay for clothing workers

Bangladesh’s government plans to raise the minimum wage for clothing workers after more than 1,100 people perished in the collapse of a factory building.

The April 24 disaster has focused attention on the textile industry’s dismal pay and hazardous working conditions.

Now a new minimum wage board will issue recommendations for pay rises within three months, textiles minister Abdul Latif Siddiky said. The cabinet would then decide whether to accept those proposals.

The wage board would include representatives of factory owners, workers and the government, he said.

The building collapse in Dhaka was one of the world’s worst industrial disasters and has raised alarm about conditions in Bangladesh’s powerful textile industry that supplies world retailers.

Working conditions in the €15bn industry are grim, a result of government corruption, desperation for jobs, and industry indifference. Minimum wages for clothing workers were last raised by 80% to 3,000 takas (€29) a month in 2010, following protests by workers.

Rescue workers said 1,125 bodies had been recovered by last night from the ruins of the fallen Rana Plaza building, which housed five garment factories employing thousands of workers.

Teams were using hydraulic cranes, bulldozers, shovels and iron cutters to uncover bodies more than two weeks after the eight-storey building collapsed.

“We are still removing the rubble very carefully as dead bodies are still coming up,” said Major Moazzem Hossain, a rescue team leader.

He said they were trying to identify badly decomposed bodies by their identity cards. “If we get the ID cards with the bodies then we are lucky,” he said.

On Friday, the search teams received a much-needed morale boost when they found a seamstress who survived under the rubble for 17 days on dried food and bottled and rain water.

More than 2,500 survivors were rescued soon after the collapse, but until 19-year-old Reshma Begum was found the crews had gone nearly two weeks without discovering anyone alive.

Doctors said she was improving after treatment for dehydration, insomnia, stress and weakness.

The Rana Plaza owner and eight other people, including garment factory owners, have been detained in the collapse investigation. Authorities say the building owner added floors to the structure illegally and allowed the factories to install heavy equipment that the building was not designed to support.

The Textiles Ministry has also begun a series of factory inspections and has ordered about 22 closed temporarily for violating safety and working standards.

The Bangladesh government also agreed to allow garment workers to form trade unions in their factories without prior permission of the owners.

Today’s Cabinet decision comes a day after the government announced a plan to raise the minimum wage for garment workers following the deaths of more than 1,100 people in the collapse of a factory building.

The April 24 disaster has focused global attention on dismal pay and hazardous working conditions in the country’s garment industry, which provides clothing for retailers around the globe.

Government spokesman Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said the Cabinet approved an amendment to the 2006 Labour Act lifting restrictions on forming trade unions in garment and other industries. The old law required workers to obtain permission before they could unionise.

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