Bangladesh garment worker dies after violent protests for fair wages; toll now 4

Police said over 10,000 workers left their shifts when at least nine factories were shut down for the day in Dhaka's northern Mirpur neighbourhood on Sunday morning.
Hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers rallied Sunday in Dhaka (AFP)
Hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers rallied Sunday in Dhaka (AFP)

DHAKA: Hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers rallied Sunday demanding fair wages after dismissing a pay offer as too small, as the death toll from the violent protests that erupted last month rose to four.

Bangladesh has been rocked by the worst labour unrest in a decade with tens of thousands of workers clashing with police, demanding a near-tripling of the minimum wage to 23,000 taka ($208). Scores of factories have been damaged.

Bangladesh's 3,500 garment factories account for around 85 per cent of its $55 billion in annual exports, supplying many of the world's top brands including Levi's, Zara and H&M.

But conditions are dire for many of the sector's four million workers, the vast majority of whom are women whose monthly pay, until recently, started at 8,300 taka ($75).

A government-appointed panel raised the sector's wage by 56.25 per cent on Tuesday to 12,500 taka, but garment workers have rejected the hike. Since the pay offer, their protests escalated with at least 70 factories ransacked.

Police said Jalal Uddin, 42, a garment worker who was injured in clashes with officers earlier this month in Gazipur, north of the capital Dhaka, died from his injuries on Saturday.

Uddin's death takes the number killed in the protests to four, police said.

"He died at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. He was injured during a protest several days ago," Bacchu Mia, a police inspector, told AFP.

Uddin's brother-in-law Rezaul Karim told reporters he had been shot in the stomach by a shotgun, and had been brought to Dhaka for treatment.

'Gone into hiding'
Police said over 10,000 workers left their shifts when at least nine factories were shut down for the day in Dhaka's northern Mirpur neighbourhood on Sunday morning.

"Some 500 of these workers tried to block a road as part of the minimum wage protests. There was no violence," police inspector Masud Sarker told AFP.

Unions have accused the government of launching a crackdown against protesters and of targeting grass-roots organisers.

Police told AFP that 150 factories had closed in the major industrial towns of Ashulia and Gazipur, both north of Dhaka, as manufacturers feared further strikes when Bangladesh's working week began on Saturday.

Police have filed cases against 11,000 unidentified people over the attacks on factories including Tusuka, one of the largest plants based in Gazipur.

Bangladesh police often issue primary charges against thousands of people, without specifying their names, following large protests and political violence -- a tactic that critics say is a way to crack down on dissent.

Amirul Haque Amin, the leader of the National Garment Workers Federation, said many protesters have gone into hiding.

At least 122 people, including several organisers, have been arrested in Gazipur since the protests began, the town's police spokesman Ibrahim Khan told AFP.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has rejected any more wage hikes and warned the violent protests could cost jobs, but the unions have continued to strike.

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