Resistance continues in Bangladesh

Garment workers riot over wages in Bangladesh

Aug 1, 2010

Dhaka – At least 35 people were injured Sunday as striking garment workers clashed with police for a third consecutive day, officials said.

Police charged the workers with batons and fired teargas to disperse the demonstration at the exclusive export-processing zone.

The unrest began Friday after labour unions rejected a government proposal for a base monthly minimum wage of 43 dollars.

Apparel workers closed a main highway at Asulia, 25 kilometres northwest of the capital, demanding a minimum wage of 72 dollars.

The government proposal came from a special commission appointed to review wages in the garment sector that provides a large part of Bangladesh’s export earnings.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed on Saturday said the government had made its best offer and warned against anarchy.

Savar faces fresh RMG unrest

The readymade garment workers on Sunday for the third consecutive day after the government announced their new wage structure staged demonstration and rampaged in Jamgora area demanding cancellation of their pay scale.

The RMG workers also put barricades on EPZ-Abdullahpur road at about 9:00 in the morning, bringing the traffic to a halt.

The angry workers demanded that the government fix the minimum monthly pay at Tk 5,000 with effect from August 1.

Witnesses said the workers of Polmol group at first took to the road to press home their demands. Later, the workers of other factories joined them.

Several garment factories in the area have announced holiday for today fearing further clash.

The angry workers also clashed with police at several points and vandalised vehicles on the road.

On Saturday, two day after the government announced the new wage structure for the garment workers, more than 200 RMG workers and 20 policemen were injured in clashes between the two sides in Ashulia after the labourers protested a new wage hike, which they say is still too low.

On Friday, several thousands garment workers rampaged through different parts of the capital and Gazipur on the same demands.

The workers also damaged around 200 business establishments, including several garment factories, and seven vehicles at Mohakhali, Tejgaon industrial area, Banani Chairmanbari and Gulshan Avenue.

On Thursday, Labour and Employment Minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain announced the new pay structure for around 3.5 million RMG workers in the country.

The minimum salary at the entry level has been fixed at Tk 3,000: Tk 2,000 in basic pay, Tk 800 in house rent and Tk 200 in medical allowance. The apprentice level wage is fixed at Tk 2,500, up from Tk 1,200 now.

The new wage structure will come to effect from November 1, 2010, said the minister.
August 1, 2010
Bangladesh garment protests spread

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladeshi police fired rubber bullets Saturday in a bid to subdue garment workers who rioted for a second day in protest against low pay as unrest spread to areas outside Dhaka, police said.

Workers fought pitched street battles with riot police in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia, north of Dhaka, as union officials rejected a government-backed pay hike as “insultingly low.”

“Over 20,000 workers walked off the job and many clashed with police, hurling stones and rocks. We fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them,” police inspector Nasir Ahmed told AFP.

The unrest came as Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told “workers to accept the pay hike and return to work,” threatening tough action against those who disobeyed her orders. “She has warned that no act of violence or sabotages will be tolerated in the key garment industry. The instigators will be brought to book,” her spokesman Mahbubul Haq Shakil said.

Rioters also burned tires, blocked a key road linking Dhaka with northern Bangladesh, attacked factories and forced police to run for cover, an AFP correspondent at the scene said. The factories have announced a shutdown in response and “violence has ebbed but the situation is still tense,” Ahmed said.

Police said at least seven law-enforcers including Ashulia’s police chief were injured in the violence — all hit by rocks thrown by protesters while the English-language newspaper the Daily Star put the injury toll at around 100.

At least 10,000 workers also blockaded a key road in Narayanganj, south of Dhaka, a police constable said, adding the laborers were holding a peaceful protest amid a heavy police presence.

The protests come a day after violence erupted in a slew of locations across the Bangladeshi capital, prompting riot police to respond against the workers with baton charges and tear gas.

The workers looted and ransacked factories, set vehicles afire and smashed shops and cars, leaving a trail of devastation.

The protests are in response to the government’s announcement Tuesday that the minimum monthly wage for garment workers would rise by 80 percent to 3,000 taka (US$43) from 1,662 taka — the lowest industry salary worldwide.

Most of the unions have spurned the offer, saying the workers need at least 5,000 taka a month to ensure a minimum standard of living in the face of surging food prices.

They have threatened to keep up nationwide protests until the government meets their demands.

Leading union leader Mosherafa Mish, who heads the Garment Workers Unity Forum and who has been at the forefront of efforts to win better wages and working conditions for employees, called the pay hike “insultingly low.”

“The government should not intimidate the workers. The protests are a normal and spontaneous reaction to the government’s sham wage hike. They are holding protests because that’s the only way their voices can be heard,” she said.

She alleged police were seeking to intimidate union leaders with death threats, including against herself, and have raided some of their houses.

Walid Hossain, a spokesman of Dhaka police, said at least two union leaders and 25 workers had been detained for their alleged role in Friday’s violence. He denied that authorities had made any death threats against union leaders.

“This is complete rubbish,” he said.

Garment is the main lever of Bangladesh economy, accounting for 80 percent of its annual exports. The country’s 4,500 garment factories employ some three million workers, around 40 percent of its industrial workforce.

A host of global retailers import garments in bulk from Bangladesh, including Wal-Mart, Tesco, Zara, Marks & Spencer and Carrefour.

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