Bangladesh Garment Protests Spread After Deaths

Dec. 13, 2010
Workers have been angered that a government hike in wages has not yet been implemented by some employers.

Protests by Bangladeshi garment workers over low wages spread on Dec. 13, a day after four people were killed in violent clashes between demonstrators and the police.

More than 4,000 garment factory staff blocked roads and staged a sit-in in the northern district of Gazipur, one of the country's main manufacturing areas which produces clothes for many Western brands.

On Dec. 12, four people were killed in the southeastern port town of Chittagong, where police fired live bullets and tear gas shells to control riots. Dozens of people were also injured at protests in the capital Dhaka.

Bangladesh's garment workers have been angered that a government hike in wages has not yet been implemented by some employers, while senior staff complain they will not benefit from the new pay structure.

"They have blocked the main highway linking Dhaka to the north of the country," said Khandaker Shafiqul Alam, police inspector at Gazipur. "The protests are led by senior workers who are frustrated that they have lost out under the new wage scheme," he said, referring to the new minimum wage plan introduced in November.

Bangladesh's 4,500 garment factories, many of which produce clothes for retailers such as Wal-Mart, H&M and Levi Strauss, must now pay workers at least 3,000 taka (US$43) a month -- up 80% on the 2006 minimum wage.

In Chittagong, 30 people have been arrested and criminal cases have been lodged against a further 3,000 over involvement in the recent violence, Kusun Dewan, deputy commissioner of police in Chittagong.

Garments accounted for 80% of the country's $16.2 billion of annual exports last year. Bangladesh's factories employ more than three million workers, about 85% of them women.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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