Riot police break up Bangladesh wages protest

Police used riot gas to disperse thousands of rampaging Bangladeshi clothing workers protesting over low wages today.

The protesters smashed vehicles and blocked traffic in the centre of Dhaka, the site of dozens of garment factories.

The violence came a day after the government raised monthly minimum wages for the country’s millions of garment workers by about 80%, after months protests over poor pay and working conditions.

Workers and union 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 (€35) a month, up from 1,662 takas (€19). Workers and labour rights groups have pressed for a monthly wage of 5,000 takas (€55).

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 labour rights group.

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.

“We have tried our best to meet the demands of the workers,” Labour Minister Khandaker Mosharaff Hossain said announcing the new wages after months of negotiations with garment factory owners.

The new pay structure starts in November and has seven grades – the highest pay fixed at 9,300 takas (€108).

The rise came a week after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina criticised the industry for paying low wages to workers.

Bangladesh’s garment exports, mainly to the US and Europe, earn more than €8.9bn a year, nearly 80% of the country’s export income. There are 4,000 factories employing more than two million workers, most of them women.

In recent months, thousands of workers demanding higher wages have protested on the streets, attacked factories and blocked roads in and around Dhaka.

Last month 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 are 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.

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