By Azad Majumder
Dhaka, Nov 13 (EFE).- Bangladesh is witnessing a surge in deadly violence as millions of textile workers take to the streets for a decent wage, with clashes claiming four lives so far.
The demand for a hike has been met with opposition from employers and the government, leading to deadly demonstrations.
One of the deceased is Anjuara Khatun, a mother of two, who left the garment factory where she worked in the industrial district of Gazipur, adjacent to Dhaka, on Wednesday as tensions escalated and demonstrators began clashing with security forces.
“I do not know if she had joined the protest or was just returning home. All we could see was her lying in the hospital, dead and blood-soaked. She was hit by bullets in the head,” her husband, Jamal Hossain, told EFE.
Three other workers have also lost their lives during the protests, which initially began peacefully in October to demand a minimum wage hike. As days passed with no progress, the protests turned violent.
Thousands of workers were prosecuted and dozens arrested, leading to a slowdown in industrial activity.
“So far, 123 factories have been damaged. About 100 suspended their production. A total of 24 cases have been filed against the agitators, and we have arrested 88 people,” Deputy Inspector General of Police Zakir Hossain Khan told EFE.
The unrest caused significant losses in a sector that represents almost 85 percent of the country’s total exports and is already under intense scrutiny due to poor working conditions, particularly after the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in 2013, which claimed the lives of 1,100 workers.
Last week, the Bangladesh government hiked the new minimum wage to 12,500 taka ($112.60).
However, trade union leaders, demanding 23,000 taka ($207.20) as the minimum wage, rejected the offer and vowed to continue the protest.
“I have been in this profession for nearly 14 years. I am drawing only 10,550 taka ($95) as salary. I will get 13,550 taka ($122) after the announced hike. This is too poor, not even close to a living wage,” said Durlov Chanda Dev, a worker at Unique Designers Limited.
President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Faruque Hasan, said the minimum wage the government recently fixed was the maximum the owners could afford as the industry reeled under the global economic downturn.
Trade union leaders insisted that the sector continues to grow, criticizing owners for prioritizing business expansion over improving the living conditions of employees.
“Bangladesh’s garment industry has continued to grow and is heading towards becoming a $100 billion industry in a few years,” Joly Talukder, general secretary of the Bangladesh Garment Workers Trade Union Centre, told EFE.
“In the past year, Bangladeshi currency has depreciated a lot. They earned in dollars and paid workers in taka. The owners invested the extra money in expanding their business,” Talukder said.
Rashadul Alam Raju, General Secretary of the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation, said they were ready to lower their demand provided the government agreed to review its decision.
Some economists suggest there is room to increase wages and avoid factory closures.
“There is a chance to raise these wages. We found in our research that it should be 17,568 taka ($158). We have seen that if brands or buyers increase the price by 6 or 7 percent,” Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Research Director of the independent think-tank Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told EFE.
Some brands said they were ready to join the endeavor to ensure a fair wage for workers.
“We are very committed to improving wages in the garment industry,” Iñigo Sáenz Maestre, leading global brand H & M spokesperson, told EFE by email. EFE