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Garment worker unrest continues

Employees are demanding better wages, working conditions

Security officials guard a garment factory at Ashulia industrial zone near Dhaka Security officials guard a garment factory at Ashulia industrial zone near Dhaka
  • ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • June 14, 2012
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Work at hundreds of garment factories remained suspended today in Ashulia near Dhaka as unrest lead by workers entered its fourth consecutive day in a bid for wage rises and payment of overdue salaries, and despite government assurances that the issues would quickly be resolved.

The situation remained tense following a meeting yesterday between the Labor and Employment Ministry, factory owners and trade unionists at the Bangladesh Secretariat in the capital.

Labor and Employment Minister Khandker Mosharraf Hossain told journalists after the meeting that the situation would calm down soon, as workers were not directly involved in the unrest and that a “vested quarter” was trying to sabotage the manufacturing sector.

“We have decided to keep all the factories open from [today]. A vested quarter is responsible for unrest in Ashulia, and we will find it out soon,” he said, adding that a committee would be formed to investigate the unrest.

For the past three days, Ashulia – an industrial zone where factories produce clothes for international brands including Wal-Mart, Tesco, Tommy Hilfiger and H&H – was wracked by violence as workers clashed with police and blocked roads and highways.

Offices and vehicles were also vandalized in the clashes.

Police responded with baton charges, tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse thousands of workers, leaving 150 injured including several police officers.

About 200 factories declared indefinite holidays fearing further violence and workers from over 300 factories continue to protest on the streets in the area.

The violence began earlier this week as workers encouraged a general strike over wage rises, and was fueled by unconfirmed rumors that police had killed two workers.

“The laborers came down the streets demanding wage rises and vandalizing many vehicles and establishments. When we tried to stop them, they also attacked us and vandalized a police checkpoint,” said Rabiul Alam, a police officer from Ashulia.

Many workers say they will not return to the factory unless their demands are met.

“The owners exploit workers by making them work hard for only a small amount of pay. They pay a new worker 3,200 taka [US$39] per month, which does little to maintain a family. This is simply inhuman and unjust,” said Zia Islam, a factory worker.

Mohammad Ali Mondol, executive director of the Ha-Meem garment factory, said he has continued to negotiate with labor leaders to reach an equitable solution.

Ruhul Amin, secretary of the Garment Workers’ Trade Union said, “We are trying to convince the workers and hope they will return to work soon.”

Bangladesh’s garment sector produces about US$14 billion in revenue annually – second only to China. It employs 5.5 million workers.

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