Bangladesh’s clothing manufacturers, which dominate the Southern Asian nation’s economy, are worried sporadic violence that has affected some factories ahead of election will spread. Workers have been demanding higher minimum pay than proposed in September by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is seeking her third straight term in power. She has the support of many textile factory owners, and that can also make them a target for those opposed to the government. Around the last election in 2014, which the main opposition party boycotted, months of violence hit operations at many factories, leading to millions of dollars in lost sales. Many foreign buyers curbed orders at the time. In recent days, workers have gone on strike and taken to the streets in places including Mymensingh, about three hours north of Dhaka, and towns around the capital where textile factories are concentrated, three garment exporters told.
The garments industry generates around $30 bn of exports a year, about 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s merchandise export earnings, making it the second largest in the world behind China. The government said in September the minimum wage for garments workers would rise by up to 51 per cent from December, payable in January, to 8,000 taka ($95.60) a month, the first increase since late 2013. Workers, though, say that’s not enough.