The monthly minimum wage level in Bangladesh was $48 or around Tk4,070 in 2019 – the lowest among all nations in Asia and the Pacific region, reveals the Global Wage Report 2020–21.
Published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Wednesday, the report calculated the "Gross Monthly Minimum Wage Levels in Asia and the Pacific" using the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) values.
Globally, Bangladesh ranked fifth from the bottom among 136 countries. Neighbouring country Pakistan topped the chart in South Asia with a monthly minimum wage level of $491, while India has the second lowest minimum wage level of $215 in the region, it says.
In the Asia and the Pacific region, the median (average) minimum wage is $381, which is $333 or around Tk18,250 higher than that of Bangladesh. However, the ILO report excluded agriculture and domestic workers while calculating Bangladesh's monthly minimum wage level.
Commenting on the matter, Policy Research Institute's Executive Director Dr Ahsan H Mansur said, "Actually, minimum wage is only applicable to Bangladesh's garments sector, and it has no application in any other ones. Elsewhere, the minimum wage is even lower.
"So, the report is not a real reflection of the true picture, and if the minimum wage is increased artificially, it would not be very beneficial at all. If we increase the minimum wage level only in a particular segment and exclude the whole economy, there will not be any positive."
He added that Bangladesh does not have a minimum wage level in every sector and for every job, so the comparison made by the ILO is not appropriate.
Additionally, the report mentions that Bangladesh's actual monthly minimum wage was only $18 last year.
In the region, Australia has the highest monthly minimum wage of $2,166 in terms of PPP, followed by New Zealand with $2,126 and South Korea with $2,096.
What is the situation in South Asia?
Nepal is following the chart-topper Pakistan with a minimum wage level of $396 in this region, and Afghanistan is just behind Nepal with $306.
At the bottom end, Bangladesh and India is followed by Sri Lanka, which has the third lowest minimum wage level of $247 in the South Asia region.
Bangladesh revises the minimum wage every five years and last did it in December 2018. The report mentions that out of 149 countries, only Bangladesh and Angola have not yet made any schedule for the next adjustment of the minimum wage.
About the issue, Dr Mansur said, "Amid this Covid-19 crisis and the ongoing export situation, if the minimum wage is increased now, unemployment may rise further. Instead, we should focus on increasing our labour productivity.
"Productive workers can get an annual pay rise automatically."
Globally, the median value of gross minimum wages for 2019 is $486 per month, indicating that half of the countries across the globe have minimum wages set lower than this value, and half have minimum wages set higher.
Largest decrease in real minimum wage
Bangladesh has seen 5.9% decrease in real minimum wage growth annually, from the period between 2010 and 2019. This was the largest decrease in Asia and the Pacific region.
Meanwhile, the neck and neck RMG export competitor Vietnam (11.3%) observed the highest increase of real minimum wage growth.
Addressing the issue, Dr Mansur said, "This is not desirable and a matter of deep concern too."
On a separate note, the annual labour productivity growth increased by 5.8% in Bangladesh, compared to 5.1% of Viet Nam for the same period.
In the previous iteration of the report published in November 2018, ILO estimated that women in Bangladesh were earning 5.5% more than men in terms of mean hourly wages, but considering monthly earnings, women were earning 7.2% less.