Thousands of workers have erected barricades on Wednesday on arteries of Dhaka in Bangladesh, demanding wage increases at textile factories which supply major Western brands, after several days of demonstrations which left at least two dead.
According to police, at least 5,000 garment workers set up roadblocks in the Mirpur district of the capital.
But according to an 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 told AFP.
“We fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the demonstrators,” he explained.
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 Begum, a 22-year-old seamstress, told AFP she had joined the protests because she was tired of “struggling to ensure the livelihood” of her family.
“How can we spend a month with barely 8,300 takas when we already have to pay 5,000 to 6,000 takas just for the rent of a one-room house?” asks Ms. Begum.< /p>
According to the unions, salary and working conditions are disastrous for a large part of the four million workers in the sector.
– “A decent salary” –
Demonstration of textile workers demanding better wages, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, November 1, 2023 © AFP – Munir UZ ZAMAN
Bangladesh is one of the world's largest clothing exporters, with a textile industry of some 3,500 factories that supply Western brands like Gap, H&M and Levi Strauss and account for 85% of the country's $55 billion exports. annuals of this South Asian country.
“We demand justice, we want a decent salary,” Nurul Islam, a 25-year-old textile worker, told AFP, accusing supporters of the ruling party of having attacked the demonstrators. The police could not confirm such an attack.
But according to the newspaper Prothom Alo, citing eyewitnesses, activists of the ruling party had used firearms.
“The ruling party men attacked our people yesterday,” Mr. Islam said. “The (factory) owners do not want to increase our wages. Should we die of hunger and injustice?”
Large brands, including Adidas, Hugo Boss, and Puma, wrote earlier this month to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, having “noted” that average monthly net salaries had “not been adjusted since 2019 while inflation has increased significantly during this period”.
According to the unions, workers' anger exploded when the powerful manufacturers' association proposed a 25% increase, ignoring their demands.
The demonstrations began early last week, but the protest has 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.
– Violent political protest –
Rally of textile workers demanding better wages, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, November 1, 2023 © AFP – Munir UZ ZAMAN
At least a second worker was killed, fatally injured in clashes between the police to the demonstrators and died while being transported to the 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 without specifying the amount of the rise.
These 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 Dhaka.
On Sunday, police charged Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), along with more than 150 other senior party members, for the murder of a police officer.
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