DHAKA - Hundreds of factories which form the hub of Bangladesh's garment industry are to close indefinitely after worker unrest sparked by the death of more than 1,100 colleagues, employees announced Monday.
As the search for bodies from last month's collapse of a factory complex wrapped up, the textile industry's main trade body said all operations at the nearby Ashulia industrial zone were being suspended until further notice.
Shahidullah Azim, of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said the decision to shut down all the factories at Ashulia, on the outskirts of Dhaka, was made "to ensure the security of our factories."
Local police chief Badrul Alam said that workers in 80% of the factories had walked out earlier in the day to demand an increase in salaries as well as the execution of the owner of the collapsed Rana Plaza complex in the town of Savar.
Most of Bangladesh's top garment factories are based at Ashulia and there has been "virtually no work" there since the April 24 Rana Plaza tragedy, Azim said.
News of the indefinite closure represents yet another body blow to the industry which has pleaded with Western retailers not to pull out of Bangladesh and promised to come up with a credible safety framework.
Authorities also said they had filed criminal cases against at least 177 garment factories after they failed to ensure safety measures.
The government's chief factory inspector Habibul Islam said that his department filed cases against 161 garment factories in the Dhaka region and 16 against plants based in the city of Chittagong.
"We first issued notices against them to fix their safety related problems at their plants. Then we filed cases against them under the country's labor laws after they failed to respond to the notices," Islam said. The factory owners face a maximum three months in jail if they're found guilty, he said.
Many of the criminal notices predate the Rana Plaza disaster and previous government crackdowns have resulted in few actual prosecutions.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013