Protests ebb as Bangladesh garment factories agree wage rise

Protests ebb as Bangladesh garment factories agree wage rise

DHAKA - Bangladeshi garment factory owners promised Sunday to raise wages for more than three million workers as soon as a government panel sets a figure, ending a week-long violent protest.

The manufacturers said they would raise wages by as much as the panel decides, despite earlier insisting they cannot afford more than a 20 percent increase on the existing minimum wage of $38 a month.

They made the announcement after holding talks late Saturday with the leaders of more than 40 unions representing workers in 4,500 garment factories in Bangladesh, the world's second largest apparel maker after China.

The government has already said wages would be raised by November, a month earlier than the previous deadline, but the exact figures are still unclear. Unions have demanded a minimum wage of $100.

"We told the unions that we'll hike wages for all workers as soon as the new minimum wages are announced by the government panel," said Atiqul Islam, head of the influential Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

"We are also ready to hike wages as much as the panel determines. We will accept even if it is more than 20 percent. But obviously our hope is that the enhanced wages will be win-win for the industry and the workers," he told AFP.

The announcement appeared to have quelled one of the biggest wage protests in the industry in years. Industrial police chief Mustafizur Rahman told AFP all factories were open on Sunday and there was no report of violence.

The president of the Jago Bangladesh Garment Sramik Federation which represents workers, Baharine Sultan, told AFP the employees had returned to work.

"We hope there won't be any unrest until the panel announces a pay hike. And we also hope manufacturers will keep their word."

Violent protests demanding a minimum $100 monthly wage erupted in the country's key industry on September 21 after the owners announced their maximum 20 percent offer.

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