Thousands of garment workers unhappy over their wages rampaged through central Dhaka on Friday, clashing with the police who used tear gas and batons to clear the streets.
The protesters smashed vehicles and blocked traffic in Dhaka’s central Mahakhali district, the site of dozens of garment factories, police officers said. The officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of local briefing rules, said several people were injured.
The protests came a day after the government raised the monthly minimum wages for the country’s millions of garment workers by about 80 percent, after months of often violent protests over poor pay and working conditions. Workers and labour leaders say the raise is inadequate and does not match the high cost of living.
“We can’t accept this raise,” said Moshrefa Mishu, a labour leader. “This is still very poor compared with the high cost of living.”
In the first increase since 2006, the official minimum wage has been set at 3,000 takas ($45) a month, up from 1,662 takas ($25). Workers and labour rights groups have pressed for a monthly wage of 5,000 takas ($73).
Garment workers in Bangladesh are paid the least in the world and have difficulty buying enough food and arranging shelter on their monthly earnings, according to the International Trade Union Confederation, a Vienna—based labour rights group.
“We have tried our best to meet the demands of the workers,” Labour Minister Khandaker Mosharaff Hossain told reporters on Thursday in announcing the new wages after months of negotiations with garment factory owners.
The new pay structure starts in November and has seven grades, the highest pay fixed at 9,300 takas ($140).
The raise came about a week after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina criticized the garment industry for paying low wages to workers.
Bangladesh’s garment exports, mainly to the United States and Europe, earn more than $12 billion a year, nearly 80 percent of the country’s export income. The country has 4,000 factories employing more than two million workers, most of them women.
In recent months, thousands of garment workers demanding higher wages have protested on the streets, attacked factories and blockaded highways in and outside the capital, Dhaka.
In June, about 700 garment factories in a major industrial hub near Dhaka were shut for two days after days of violent protests by tens of thousands of workers.
International companies Wal—Mart, Tesco, H&M, Zara, Carrefour, Gap, Metro, JCPenney, Marks & Spencer, Kohl’s, Levi Strauss and Tommy Hilfiger all import in bulk from Bangladesh.
The manufacturers say they’re being squeezed by a slump in prices on the international market because of global economic crisis. They also say higher production costs due to an energy crisis and poor infrastructure are pushing them to the edge.