At least 40 people including 15 policemen were injured in a string of clashes between garment workers agitating against sudden closure of three factories and law enforcers at Shewrapara in the capital yesterday.
Police charged batons, fired around one hundred teargas canisters and water cannons to disperse several hundred workers of around 15 garment factories located on both sides of Rokeya Sarani, who took to the streets demanding reopening of the closed factories.
The demonstrators blocked Rokeya Sarani for around two hours from 8:30am, threw brickbats and vandalised three vehicles including a police ambulance turning the entire area into a virtual battlefield.
Traffic movement on the major street remained suspended for over four hours causing long tailbacks on it as well as on other roads in adjacent areas. Commuters suffered badly. Vehicular movement normalised at about 1:00pm.
Production was suspended in at least 15 garment factories following the clashes.
Meanwhile, workers of the three garment factories of Outright Group Ltd started agitation on Saturday as a male official slapped female worker. Next day, they made some demands including immediate payment of annual increment of wages, and continued agitating.
Witnesses and workers said they found the factories closed at around 7:00am yesterday with the owners giving a notice on indefinite closure of those.
This enraged workers of these factories, and within an hour several hundred workers of nearby factories joined them to help realise their “14-point demand including increased wages and other facilities.”
The demonstrators blocking Rokeya Sarani started giving speeches through loudspeakers at around 10:30am, police snapped electric connection to the loudspeakers. This led to the clashes with police, witnesses said.
Some locals, pedestrians and journalists were among those injured in the clashes.
The situation cooled down when supporters of local lawmaker Kamal Ahmed Majumder assured the workers of a peaceful solution to their problems.
Contacted, Officer-in Charge of Kafrul Police Station Delwar Hossain said, “We asked the workers, who were creating public sufferings for the last five days, to stage protest peacefully and withdraw road blockade. But they started pelting brickbats instead, injuring some 15 policemen.” He was also injured during the clashes, he added.
Morzina Begum, a worker of Outright Fashion Ltd, a unit of the group, told this correspondent, “We wanted to sit with the owners on some of our legal demands including increased wages, and resolving Saturday’s incident to prevent recurrence of such happenings.”
But the owners did not sit with them and closed the factories.
Several workers said they usually get an increment of wages in June every year but this time they did not get it.
Outright Group Chairman Reajuth Ali Bachchu, when contacted, said he has to suffer a loss of about Tk 5-6 crore for the agitation.
“I will have to book my products for air-shipment to maintain deadline. It will cost me additional Tk 5 to 6 crore. I am frustrated about continuing my business,” he said.
Later in the evening, lawmaker Kamal Ahmed Majumder sat with the workers and owners to arbitrate a peaceful solution.
After the meeting, he claimed to The Daily Star late last night that both sides reached an agreement brokered by him, and the workers decided to join work today.
But corroboration of the lawmaker’s claim from the workers’ side was not immediately available.