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Published: Monday, 5/13/2013

Bangladesh aims to raise pay for garment workers

Building collapse boosts scrutiny on industry


DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s government plans to raise the minimum wage for garment workers, a cabinet minister said Sunday, after the deaths of more than 1,100 people in the collapse of a factory building focused global attention on the textile industry’s dismal pay and hazardous working conditions.

A new minimum wage board will issue recommendations for pay raises within three months, Textiles Minister Abdul Latif Siddiky said. The cabinet then will decide whether to accept those proposals.

The wage board will include representatives of factory owners, workers, and the government, he said.

The April 24 collapse, the world’s worst garment-industry disaster, has raised alarm about conditions in Bangladesh’s powerful textile industry, which makes clothing for major retailers worldwide.

Working conditions in the $20 billion industry are grim, a result of government corruption, desperation for jobs, and industry indifference.

Garment workers’ minimum pay was last raised 80 percent to $38 a month in 2010 after worker protests.

Rescuers said 1,125 bodies had been recovered by late Sunday from the ruins of the Rana Plaza building, which housed five garment factories employing thousands. Overnight rainstorms had halted the recovery efforts, but by midday the teams were back at work using cranes, bulldozers, shovels, and iron cutters as they kept looking for bodies more than two weeks after the eight-story building collapsed.

“We are still removing the rubble very carefully as dead bodies are still coming up,” said Maj. Moazzem Hossain, a rescue team leader. “The dead bodies are decomposed and beyond recognition.”

Officials are trying to identify bodies by their identity cards.

On Friday, the teams found a seamstress who had managed to survive for 17 days on dried food and bottled and rain water. More than 2,500 people were rescued shortly after the collapse, but until Reshma Begum, 19, was found, the crews had gone two weeks without finding anyone alive.

Doctors said she was improving after treatment for dehydration, insomnia, stress, and weakness.

Officials say the Rana Plaza’s owners illegally added three floors and let the plants install heavy machines and generators, although the structure was not designed to support such equipment. The owner and eight other people, including factory owners, have been detained.

The government has stepped up inspections and has closed 22 factories temporarily over safety and working conditions.

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