Bangladeshi police Tuesday fired rubber bullets and tear gas as thousands of striking workers in the South Asian country’s huge garment industry staged protests for a third day demanding wage hikes.
Police said more than 5,000 workers blocked a national highway at Hemayetpur outside the capital Dhaka and staged demonstrations for hours after they walked out of their factories.
“At least 12 policemen were injured after they threw rocks at our officers. We fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. Twelve factories were shut down,” police official Sana Shaminur Rahman told AFP.
The online edition of the Manabjamin newspaper said at least 50 protesters were injured in waves of clashes, which also spread to garment factory hubs in Dhaka, Ashulia and Uttara involving thousands more workers.
Why This Matters
Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest garment maker after China.
Bangladesh’s 4,500 textile and clothing factories exported more than $30 billion worth of apparel last year, making clothing for retailers such as H&M, Walmart, Tesco, Carrefour and Aldi.
Despite the industry’s role in transforming the impoverished nation into a major manufacturing hub, garment workers are some of the lowest paid in the world.
The industry also has a poor workplace safety record with the collapse of a Rana Plaza garment factory complex killing more than 1,130 people in 2013 in one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.
Bangladesh raised the minimum monthly wage for the garment sector’s four million workers by 51 percent to 8,000 taka ($95) from December.
— AFP news agency (@AFP) April 24, 2017
But senior workers say their raise was less than this and unions, which warn the strikes may spread, say the hike fails to compensate for price rises in recent years.
“The wages were hiked after five years. But in the five years the cost of living has increased more than the wage hike,” Babul Akhter, head of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, told AFP
Following the Rana Plaza disaster, major retailers formed two safety groups to push through crucial reforms in the factories, prompting manufacturers to plow in more than a billion dollars in safety upgrades.
The protests are the first major test for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since winning a fourth term in December 30 elections marred by violence, thousands of arrests and allegations of vote rigging and intimidation.
More on the Subject
Saddled with debt from failed harvests, tens of thousands of Cambodian farmers are turning to brick factories, where owners pay off debt in exchange for labor.
The University of London said in an October study that brick factories in Cambodia were creating a “multi-generational workforce of adults and children trapped in debt bondage – one of the most prevalent forms of modern slavery in the world.”