DHAKA (AFP) – Bangladeshi garment manufacturers yesterday shuttered 150 factories “indefinitely”, as police issued blanket charges for 11,000 workers in connection with violent protests demanding a higher minimum wage, officers said.
Bangladesh’s 3,500 garment factories account for around 85 per cent of its USD55 billion in annual exports, supplying many of the world’s top brands including Levi’s 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 BDT8,300 (USD75).
Violent protests demanding better pay erupted last month, with at least three workers killed and more than 70 factories ransacked or damaged since, according to police.
A government-appointed panel raised the sector’s wage by 56.25 per cent on Tuesday to BDT12,500, but garment workers have rejected the hike, instead demanding a BDT23,000 minimum wage.
On Thursday, 15,000 workers clashed with police on a key highway and ransacked Tusuka, a top plant, along with a dozen other factories.
“Police have filed cases against 11,000 unidentified people over the attack on Tusuka garment factory,” police inspector Mosharraf Hossain told AFP.
Bangladesh police often issue primary charges against thousands of people following large protests and political violence, a tactic that critics say is a way to crack down on dissent.
Human rights groups have previously warned such mass cases launched against thousands of unidentified people gives police the license to target innocent protesters.
Wage protests pose a major challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has ruled the country since 2009.
A resurgent opposition has challenged her rule as she readies for elections due before the end of January.
Police told AFP that 150 factories had closed in the major industrial towns of Ashulia and Gazipur, both north of the capital Dhaka, as manufacturers feared further strikes when Bangladesh’s working week began yesterday.
“The manufacturers invoked Section 13/1 of the labour laws and shut 130 factories at Ashulia indefinitely citing illegal strikes,” head of police in the manufacturing hub Sarwar Alam told AFP.
Ashulia is home to some of the biggest Bangladeshi factories, with some employing as many as 15,000 workers in a single multi-storied plant.