Bangladesh police yesterday fired rubber bullets and tear gas at garment workers protesting a new minimum wage, which is far less than the US$100 a month they demanded. On Wednesday night, company owners agreed to a US$68 minimum monthly wage for the sector’s 4 million employees following days of unrest in garment hub Ashulia and elsewhere which closed hundreds of factories.
While pro-government labor unions have accepted the increase of 76 percent, left-leaning labour groups have rejected the deal, saying that it is too far below their original demand.
“All factories based in Ashulia reopened in the morning, but the workers continued their strike and blocked a key highway,” Ashulia industrial police inspector Abdus Sattar said.
“We tried to clear the highway, but they threw stones at police. In retaliation, we fired rubber bullets and tear gas,” he said, adding one female police officer was injured during the clashes.
Muhammad Ibrahim, a union leader, said the workers were also demanding that wages be increased immediately.
“The protesters are divided into two groups: One group remains sticking to original demand for US$100, while the other group wants immediate implementation of new salaries,” Ibrahim said.
The government’s Minimum Wage Board voted this month to raise the minimum salaries to 5,300 takas (US$68) from 3,000 takas this month, following a series of disasters in the sector that highlighted appalling labor conditions.
Protests at poor wages and working conditions have gained intensity since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in April, which killed 1,135 people.
The new wages still make Bangladeshi garment workers some of the lowest paid in the textile sector worldwide.