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Bangladesh garment workers block roads in fair wage protest

DHAKA (AFP) – Thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers barricaded roads in Dhaka yesterday demanding fair wages for clothing they make for major Western brands, with at least two killed during days of protests.

Seamstress Sabina Begum, 22, said she joined the protests because she was “struggling to ensure bread and butter” for her family, saying the monthly minimum wage of BDT8,300 (USD75) did not cover basic needs.

“How can we spend a month with BDT8,300 when we need to spend BDT5,000-6,000 alone for the rent of a one-bedroom house?” Begum told AFP.

The garment worker protests come as Bangladesh also reels from separate anti-government demonstrations, with opposition party supporters demanding Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina step down ahead of elections due by the end of January.

Bangladesh’s 3,500 garment factories account for some 85 per cent of the South Asian country’s USD55 billion exports, but conditions are dire for many of its four million apparel workers.

Garment workers block roads as they take part in a protest in Dhaka, Bangladesh. PHOTO: AFP

Major Western companies including Adidas, Gap, H&M and Levi Strauss purchase goods from Bangladesh manufacturers.

Bangladesh’s powerful manufacturers’ association has offered workers a 25 per cent pay raise, ignoring demands for a nearly threefold increase to the basic salary.

Police said at least 5,000 garment workers, demanding a monthly minimum wage of BDT23,000 (USD208), set up roadblocks in the capital Dhaka. An AFP correspondent at the protests said the number of workers could be significantly higher.

Assistant Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Omar Faruq said no violence had been reported yesterday in the city.

However, a crowd of some 1,500 protesters hurled rocks at multiple factories in the industrial city of Gazipur, regional head of the industrial police unit Sarwar Alam told AFP.

“We fired tear gas and sound grenades to disperse the protesters,” he said.