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Bangladesh reaches wage deal, but garment workers' protest goes on
Factory owners agree to 77 percent increase in minimum wage, which still leaves it the world's lowest
November 14, 201310:30AM ET
Bangladeshi garment factory owners said on Thursday they had agreed to a proposed 77 percent rise in the minimum wage, but fresh protests broke out as stone-throwing workers called for an even larger increase and police were forced to deploy tear gas and rubber bullets to break them up.
The factory owners agreed to the proposal at a meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday night after several days of violent protests by workers.
"We have agreed to the new wages after the prime minister assured us she would look into our problems," said Mohammad Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
"In the greater interest of our garment sector, we agreed to it. But many small factories cannot afford the rise," Islam told Reuters.
He said the new wage, to be officially approved by the wage board, would go into effect next month.
Workers demanding $100 a month took to the streets Thursday, blocking major roads and attacking factories in the Ashulia industrial belt on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka.
Police used water cannons, fired rubber bullets and lobbed tear gas to disperse the stone-throwing demonstrators, witnesses said. More than 50 people, including police, were wounded.
"We will continue protesting until we realize our demand," a protester said.
Labor Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju urged workers to go back to the job and warned that continuing unrest could threaten livelihoods and lead to action against troublemakers.
"We are working to ensure decent pay for garment workers," he told reporters after a meeting with trade unions. "Culprits who are trying to destroy the industry won't be spared."
The new wage would still be the lowest for garment workers in the world, said Khandaker Golam Moazzem, a research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue think tank.
The protests have coincided with violent anti-government protests and strikes led by the main opposition party demanding that next year's elections take place under a nonpartisan government.
The impasse between the ruling party and the opposition over election rules is a fresh threat to Bangladesh's $22 billion garment export industry, the economic lifeblood of the impoverished country of 160 million, employing about 4 million people, most of them women.
Its rock-bottom wages and trade deals with Western countries have helped make Bangladesh the world's second-largest apparel exporter after China, with the vast majority of its clothes going to Europe and the United States.