Nearly 50,000 garment workers in Bangladesh were on strike for two weeks at a stretch from . They downed their tools and walked out of their factories in protest. The workers clashed with police but did not relent their strike action. Police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse huge crowds of workers who had barricaded a highway at a garment hub just outside the capital, Dhaka. Thousands of factories had to close because of the strike.
The estimated 40 lakh garment workers in Bangladesh who make clothes for top global brands are some of the lowest paid workers in the world - receiving a minimum wage that is only 9% of a living wage. The existing minimum monthly wage of Tk 5,300 or almost $65 came into effect from 1st January, 2014. On 16th January, the owners of readymade garment factories offered the workers Tk 6,360 as minimum monthly wage, which falls nearly 40 percent short of Tk 16,000 wage that workers are demanding. This was rejected by the workers.
The industry also has a poor workplace safety record. The Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in 2013 killed more than 1,130 people in one of the world's worst industrial accidents. Garment factories subject their workers to very poor working conditions with the low wages regularly compelling them to work overtime in unsafe environments. More than 85% of the workforce comprises women, who have to work in the absence of basic amenities and without the proper enforcement of laws granting maternity leave and benefits. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) is an association of factory owners whose members basically constitute the ruling class, and have full support of the government in flouting every standard of safety.
The last major protests demanding salary hikes occurred in late 2016, resulting in heavy repressive measures undertaken by the state. More than 1,500 workers lost their jobs for participating in the demonstrations. There is great unity among the workers at present, despite the attempts of factory owners to provoke dissention among them. Trade unions are planning to engage in talks with government officials to address the minimum wage demand but are prepared for more serious action if that fails.