ASHULIA: Bangladesh garment factories reopened Wednesday as hundreds of thousands of workers returned to key manufacturing hubs after days of violent protests demanding a near-tripling of the minimum wage.
The South Asian country has been rocked by the worst labor unrest in a decade, with tens of thousands of workers clashing with police for a 23,000 taka ($208) minimum monthly wage, up from the 8,300 taka set by the government five years ago.
Bangladesh’s 3,500 garment factories account for around 85 percent of its $55 billion in annual exports, supplying many of the world’s top brands including Levi’s, Zara and H&M.
But conditions are dire for many of the sector’s 4 million workers who have been hard hit by soaring prices of food, house rents and costs of education and healthcare.
Rights groups have said that many workers are half-starving, and union leaders accused police of instilling a “climate of fear.”
A government-appointed panel raised the sector’s wage last week by 56.25 percent to 12,500 taka, but garment workers have rejected the hike, sparking further protests with at least 70 factories ransacked.
Top union leader Babul Akhter said on Wednesday that while they still rejected the new minimum wage, he urged workers to return to factories.
“We’ve not budged from our demand for 23,000 minimum wage,” Akhter told AFP.
He called on the government to release all arrested workers and drop charges against others.
At least 10,000 unidentified garment workers were charged with violence as part of the recent crackdown, according to authorities.
Police said scores of factories, which were shut down due to the protests at the main trouble spots of Ashulia and Gazipur last week, reopened after the manufacturers held talks with workers over the past two days.
“Hundreds of thousands of workers entered the factories,” Sarwar Alam, the head of Ashulia industrial police unit, told AFP.
“There is no violence. All factories are open.”