In the ongoing dispute between the government and garment workers over the minimum wage, a Minimum Wage Board (MWB) has been established for employees in the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) and Economic Zones (EZs).
The eleven-member board includes Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) Executive Chairman Maj Gen Abul Kalam Mohammad Ziaur Rahman, BEPZA Member Ali Reza Mazid, Joint Secretary Morsheda Akter, BEPZA Executive Director Tanvir Hossain, Bangladesh EPZ Investors’ Association Chairman Shadad Mosharraf Hossaion, and WWA representatives Najrul Islam and Mukta, as per a gazette published recently.
The legal framework for workers in EPZs and EZs differs from that of industries in domestic tariff areas outside the special zones. Although there is no established trade union, factories within these zones have Workers’ Welfare Associations (WWAs), and their members become part of the wage board in accordance with the Bangladesh EPZ Labour Act 2019.
Selim Ahsan Khan, legal counselor at the Solidarity Centre Bangladesh, noted that the last minimum wage board for EPZ workers was formed in 2013, setting the minimum monthly wage at Tk 5,600. In 2018, BEPZA revised it to Tk 8,200. Khan emphasized the challenges faced by workers in EPZs, citing restrictions on forming connections with NGOs, trade unions, or federations outside the EPZ. The EPZ Labour Rule also prohibits political involvement, limiting workers’ ability to seek redress for rights violations.
Taslima Akhter, President of Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity, urged uniformity in labor laws across the country. She expressed concerns about the government forming the board while 4.0 million workers outside EPZs demand a minimum wage of Tk 25,000, initially announced by the government at Tk 12,500. Akhter emphasized equal rights for all workers, inside or outside EPZs, and called for considering the increased cost of living when determining the minimum wage for EPZ workers.
According to BEPZA data, around 0.52 million workers are employed in EPZs, with 66% being women. In the fiscal year 2021-2022, exports from EPZs reached US$8.5 billion, with the garment sector contributing 54% to this export earnings.