Bangladesh garment worker protest continues for 4th day

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) – Thousands of garment workers staged demonstrations to demand better wages for the fourth straight day yesterday, shutting down factories on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka.

The Daily Star newspaper reported that one protesting worker was shot dead and three dozen others were injured in clashes with police.

Police fired tear gas and water cannons and used batons to prevent people from blocking off the road leading to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.

Workers responded by hurling bricks at police and setting vehicles ablaze.

Bangladesh’s garments industry generates around USD30 billion in exports a year, making it the second largest in the world after China. Bangladeshi garment workers make products for big-name fashion retailers including Zara, H&M and Uniqlo.

Bangladeshi police chase protesting garment workers in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh. – AP

For months workers have been demanding higher minimum pay than what the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has proposed.

Protesting garment worker Shefali Begum told The Associated Press on Tuesday that workers want at least 16,000 taka, or about USD191, per month.

“They give us nothing. Right now, our salaries are the same as for helpers hired to assist us,” Begum said.

Hasina’s ruling Awami League-led coalition swept general elections December 28 amid complaints by the opposition of voter intimidation and vote-rigging. Hasina was sworn in Monday for a record third consecutive term as head of government.

The booming garments industry has been a pillar of Hasina’s economic development strategy for Bangladesh, where per capita income has nearly tripled since 2009, to USD1,750.

Under Hasina, the level of extreme poverty — classified as under USD1.25 per day — has dropped from 19 per cent of the population to less than nine per cent in the last decade, according to the World Bank.