In Bangladesh, garment workers erect barricades to demand higher wages

“We want a decent wage

In Bangladesh, garment workers erect barricades to demand higher wages

“We want a decent wage. » After several days of demonstrations in Bangladesh and clashes which caused the death of at least two people, thousands of workers erected barricades on avenues in the capital, Dhaka, on Wednesday November 1. They are demanding pay increases from textile factories which supply major Western brands.

According to police, at least 5,000 garment workers set up roadblocks in the capital's Mirpur district. But according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent on site, the number of demonstrators could be significantly higher.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Omar Faruq said “no violence” was reported on Wednesday. However, around 1,500 protesters threw stones at several factories in the industrial city of Gazipur, regional industrial police unit chief Sarwar Alam said. “We fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the protesters,” he said.

Factories supplying Gap, H

The workers are demanding a minimum monthly salary of 23,000 takas (190 euros), almost three times more than the current 8,300 takas (70 euros). Sabina B., a 22-year-old seamstress, said she joined the protests because she is tired of “struggling to provide a living” for her family. “How can we go through a month with just 8,300 taka when we already have to shell out 5,000 to 6,000 taka just for the rent of a one-room house? », she asks.

According to the unions, salary and working conditions are disastrous for a large part of the four million workers in the sector. Bangladesh is one of the world's largest clothing exporters, with a textile industry of some 3,500 factories supplying Western brands like Gap, H

“We are demanding justice, we want a decent salary,” said Nurul I., a 25-year-old textile worker, accusing ruling party supporters of attacking the protesters. Police could not confirm such an attack. But according to the Prothom Alo newspaper, citing eyewitnesses, ruling party activists had used firearms. “The ruling party men attacked our people yesterday,” the worker said. “The [factory] owners don’t want to raise our wages. Should we die of hunger and injustice? »

Major brands, including Adidas, Hugo Boss, and Puma, wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the beginning of the month, having “noticed” that average monthly net salaries had “not been adjusted since 2019 while the 'inflation increased significantly during this period'.

Announcement of increase, without details

According to unions, workers' anger exploded when the powerful manufacturers' association proposed a 25% increase, ignoring their demands.

The protests began early last week, but the protests turned violent on Monday with the walkout of tens of thousands of workers in Gazipur where a six-story factory was set on fire, leading to the death of a worker. At least a second worker was killed, fatally injured in clashes between police and demonstrators and died while being taken to hospital.

Ms. Hasina's government this year established a committee responsible for setting a new minimum wage. On Tuesday, Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), promised that they would increase the minimum wage from next month, but did not specify the amount of the hike.

The labor protests come as Bangladesh is rocked by violent anti-government rallies in several cities, with supporters of opposition parties demanding Sheikh Hasina's resignation before elections scheduled for late January. Two opposition activists died in unclear circumstances, according to authorities in Kuliarchar, north of Dakha.