US urges Bangladesh to revisit wage decision after deadly protests

WASHINGTON (AFP): The United States called Wednesday on Bangladesh to revisit its recent minimum wage decision and to protect workers’ rights after police shot dead a woman during the latest protests by garment laborers.

A government-appointed panel in Bangladesh on Tuesday raised factory wages in the country’s vast garment industry by 56.25 percent to 12,500 taka ($113) per month, but striking workers demand a near-tripling of the wage to 23,000 taka.

“We commend the members of the private sector who have endorsed union proposals for a reasonable wage increase,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

“The United States urges the tripartite process to revisit the minimum wage decision to ensure that it addresses the growing economic pressures faced by workers and their families,” he said, referring to an internationally backed structure set up after the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building, which left at least 1,134 people dead.

Anjuara Khatun, a 23-year-old sewing machine operator and mother of two, was shot in the head and killed when police fired Wednesday on protesters in the industrial city of Gazipur, her widower told AFP.

The United States said it was “concerned about the ongoing repression of workers and trade unionists.”

“We call on the government of Bangladesh to protect workers’ right to peaceful protest and investigate allegations of false criminal charges against workers and labor leaders,” Miller said.

The South Asian country’s 3,500 garment factories account for around 85 percent of its $55 billion in annual exports, supplying many of the world’s top brands including Levi’s, Zara and H&M.