Dhaka: An official Bangladeshi panel voted today to raise the minimum wage for garment workers by 76 per cent to USD 67, still the lowest in the world and well short of what unions wanted.
The board of government officials, garment manufacturers and union leaders recommended wages rise from 3,000 taka (USD 38) a month to 5,300 taka (USD 67) for the nation`s four million garment workers in the wake of a factory complex collapse that killed 1,135 people.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in April, one of the world`s worst industrial disasters, focused global attention like never before on the industry`s appalling pay and conditions.
"The wage board has recommended 5,300 taka (USD 67) as the minimum wage of the garment workers," Minimum Wage Board head AK Roy told reporters after its meeting in Dhaka.
But the board was split on the final figure, with the majority voting for USD 67, with factory owners rejecting the sum as too high.
Owner representative Arshad Jamal Dipu warned of dire consequences for Bangladesh`s USD 22 billion industry, the world`s second largest after China, if the figure was introduced.
"It`s an emotional decision devoid of reality," Dipu told AFP.
"It`ll erode our competitive advantage," Dipu added.
Although the government must still accept the figure before it becomes law, authorities have adopted the board`s recommendation at its past two reviews in 2006 and 2010.
The government pledged to raise wages by November, based on the board`s recommendation, after strikes in September saw tens of thousands of workers take to the streets, torch factories and clash with police to demand an increase.
Protests over poor wages, benefits and working conditions are frequent in Bangladesh but have gained in intensity since the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex where workers stitched clothes for top Western retailers.
Union leader Sirajul Islam Rony said the rise was still the lowest for the sector worldwide, and below the 8,114 taka (USD 102) unions had been demanding to ensure decent living standards and to keep up with inflation.
"The minimum wages in Cambodia and India are around USD 80 while Vietnam, Indonesia and China pay higher," said Rony, who is one of six members of the board.
"We`ve demanded more. But after considering every aspect, we think this is a fair deal," he said.
Dipu said owners would struggle to pay the new wage, at a time when large amounts of money were being spent fixing fire and other safety problems at factories in the wake of the Rana Plaza and other disasters.