Central & South Asia
Bangladesh workers riot over wages
Garment workers clash with police in capital Dhaka, angered by "inadequate" pay hike.
Last Modified: 30 Jul 2010 09:37 GMT
Agitating workers burnt cars and attacked
garment factories in Dhaka [Reuters]

Thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers have rioted in the streets of capital Dhaka while protesting against a wage increase that fell far short of their demands.
The government had announced on Thursday an increase in monthly salaries from 1,662 taka ($24) to 3,000 taka ($43), for millions of workers in the key export garment industry after weeks of protests.

But the workers, who make clothing for international brands like Marks & Spencer, JCPenney, Wal-Mart and H&M, are seeking a minimum monthly salary of 5,000 taka ($72).

The workers burnt cars, blocked traffic and attacked dozens of garment factories with rocks on Friday, Nural Alam, the police chief, said.

Hundreds of riot police have been deployed, he said, adding that officers had used baton charges and tear gas to try to disperse the crowds.

Mosherafa Mishu, the head of the Garment Workers Unity Forum, which has rejected the proposed wage hike, said that "the workers' emotion is running very high".

Below poverty line

"The government has just done what the garment factory owners want. This offer is not acceptable to workers," Mishu said.

"They are frustrated, they feel let down by the government. They thought they would get a good salary and then are just offered nothing," she added.

"They thought they would get a good salary and then are just offered nothing"

Mosherafa Mishu, head of the Garment Workers Unity Forum

Mishu warned that unless a better offer was forthcoming, workers would strike and organise "a militant movement" over poor pay and working conditions.

The garment industry is Bangladesh's biggest export market, accounting for more than 80 per cent of the impoverished country's annual export earnings of $16bn, but workers earn wages well below the poverty line.

Manufacturers say that their profits are being squeezed as shoppers seek a bargain amid the global economic downturn.

"We are rejecting what has been offered as increased wages because it is too inadequate to make ends meet," said one worker at a protest.

The sector is the second biggest employer in the country, with about 4,500 factories employing about 3.5 million workers, many of whom work in dangerous conditions.

Last week, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the country's prime minister told parliament that garment workers' salaries were "inhuman" and said manufacturers should share profits with the workers.

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