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Dozens injured in Bangladesh garment protests

Sat, 07/31/2010 - 4:27am
Manufacturing.net

Thousands of protesting garment workers in Bangladesh clashed with police, injuring dozens of people Saturday amid continued violence over a new minimum wage.

Police charged with batons, fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the stone-throwing workers at Ashulia, a major industrial hub of some 300 garment factories that supply clothing to international companies like Wal-Mart, Zara and Marks & Spencer.

Workers from about 20 factories joined the protests and dozens were injured in the clashes, police official Iqbal Bahar said. A complete figure of injuries was not immediately available.

Saturday's protests came two days after the government raised monthly minimum wages for the country's millions of garment workers by about 80 percent, after months of often-violent protests over poor pay and working conditions. Workers and labor leaders say the raise is inadequate and does not match the high cost of living.

In the first increase since 2006, the official minimum wage has been set at 3,000 takas ($45) a month, up from 1,662 takas ($25). Workers and labor rights groups have pressed for a monthly wage of 5,000 takas ($73).

Garment workers in Bangladesh are paid the least in the world and have difficulty buying enough food and arranging shelter on their monthly earnings, according to the International Trade Union Confederation, a Vienna-based labor rights group.

Bangladesh's garment exports, mainly to the United States and Europe, earn more than $12 billion a year, nearly 80 percent of the country's export income. The country has 4,000 factories employing more than 2 million workers, most of them women.

International companies Wal-Mart, Tesco, H&M, Zara, Carrefour, Gap, Metro, JCPenney, Marks & Spencer, Kohl's, Levi Strauss and Tommy Hilfiger all import in bulk from Bangladesh.

In June, about 700 garment factories in a major industrial hub near Dhaka were shut for two days after days of violent protests by tens of thousands of workers.

The manufacturers say they're being squeezed by a slump in prices on the international market because of global economic crisis. They also say higher production costs due to an energy crisis and poor infrastructure are pushing them to the edge.

The new pay structure starts in November and has seven grades - the highest pay fixed at 9,300 takas ($140).

The raise came about a week after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina criticized the garment industry for paying low wages to workers.

However, Hasina warned Saturday against any chaos in the name of protests, saying the government would show zero tolerance for agitators.

"The workers should concentrate on work," Hasina said in Dhaka.

SOURCE

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