An official Bangladeshi panel voted Monday to raise the minimum wage for garment workers by 76 percent to $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 ($38) a month to 5,300 taka ($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 as the minimum wage of the garment workers," Minimum Wage Board head A.K. Roy told reporters after its meeting in Dhaka.

But the board was split on the final figure, with the majority voting for $67, with factory owners rejecting the sum as too high.

Owner representative Arshad Jamal Dipu warned of dire consequences for Bangladesh's $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 ($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 $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.

In a series of meetings in recent weeks, the board had been deadlocked over a final figure with manufacturers saying they could only afford to double wages to 4,500 taka ($56).

Strikes over pay have hit the industry in recent months, with production at more than 500 factories -- where clothes are made for retailers such as Tesco and H&M -- suspended for days, costing some $40 million.

Several hundred garment workers from two left leaning unions protested outside the venue for the board's meeting in central Dhaka to reject the final figure as too low.

Union leader Montu Ghosh told AFP that workers would launch another round of protests over the decision.

"We refused this proposed 5,300 taka minimum wage. We'll call all-out protests until our original demand is met," he said.

 

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