RMG unrest continues
Workers set fire to factories in Gazipur, 200 injured, factory owners seek securityStaff Correspondent
Apparel workers rampaged through the industrial belts in Gazipur setting factories on fire, vandalising vehicles, blocking highways and fighting pitched battles with the police for the second straight day on Sunday to press their demand for wage increase.
About 200 people, including workers and police men, were injured in the clashes as the unrest also spread to Uttara in the capital.
The protesters set fire to two factories in Gazipur and blocked Dhaka-Gazipur, Dhaka-Tangail, Dhaka-Mymensingh highways at several points in Gazipur for hours together causing serious disruption of traffic, according to witnesses and police.
The workers’ unrest forced suspension of production in dozens of factories in the troubled areas.
The cabinet committee on law and order at a meeting observed that the workers’ unrest in the readymade garment sector might take a serious turn if steps were not taken immediately to contain the situation.
The violent protests erupted in Kaliakoir upazila in the morning and quickly spread to other areas, including Kashimpur, Tongi and Konabari.
Leaders of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association met with the home minister and the labour minister at their residences in the evening after the factory owners from Gazipur expressed concern over the situation and sought security at a meeting at the BGMEA headquarters.
The workers were demanding around 170 per cent increase in their minimum wage from existing Tk 3,000 a month in the export-oriented garment industry that earns over $20 billion annually in foreign exchange.
The government on June 6 set up the six-member minimum wage board with retired district judge AK Roy as chairman. The workers’ representative to the board on August 18 proposed Tk 8,114 as minimum gross monthly wage for a worker while the owners’ representative on September 17 proposed Tk 3,600 a month, a 20 per cent increase on the existing wage of Tk 3,000.
New Age Gazipur correspondent reported that agitated workers had set fire to the factory of Jamuna Denims Limited at Konabari around noon. The workers entered the factory by breaking open its boundary walls and set fire to the store and office rooms. They beat up officials leaving at least three people injured.
Fire engines from Kaliakoir and Gazipur put out the flames.
Police fired tear gas to disperse the workers who fought running battles with law enforcer for about half an hour.
Another group of workers attacked Jamuna Knitting factory in the same area and set fire to its fabric store. Locals and factory authorities doused the fire.
Gazipur fire service deputy director Akhteruzzaman told New Age that they had put out the flames in both the incidents.
In Tongi, over 100 workers and 25 police men, including the Tongi police officer-in-charge, were injured in clashes.
Witnesses said several hundred workers of Windi Group and Jaber and Jubaer groups took to the streets in Tongi BSCIC area. Workers from different factories in the adjoining areas, including Ananta, Shishir and Hamid Textiles, joined the protests and blocked the Dhaka –Mymensingh highway.
Workers alleged that the police had charged batons on their peaceful protests that led to the clashes. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.
Tongi police officer-in-charge Abul Kalam Azad said they had asked the workers to settle their problems through discussions with the factory owners but they turned violent and attacked the police.
Several hundred factory workers of ABA Group at Sena Kalyan Bhaban ransacked the factory and blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway.
Earlier, Interstop factory in Pallibiddut area under Kaliakoir upazila took to the streets blocking Dhaka-Tangail highway at about 9:00am demanding Tk 8,000 as their minimum wage.
Workers from nearby factories joined the demonstrators. Police fired tear gas to disperse the protestors and cleared the highway at about 10:45am.
Kaliakoir police officer-in-charge Omar Faruk said the workers had damaged vehicles and hurled stones at garment factories during the protest.
Witnesses said that workers different garment factories blocked Dhaka-Gazipur highway in Tin Sarak area at about 11:30am. Workers of Shreepur blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway while authorities of different factories in Kashimpur announced holiday for the day in the face of agitations by the workers.
Police used batons to disperse the stone-throwing protesters.
Authorities of different factories in the area announced holiday for Sunday.
At Uttara in the capital Dhaka, several thousand garment factory workers staged demonstrations for higher wage. At least 12 workers were injured as police charged batons to disperse the protesters.
Assistant commissioner of Uttara zone Mashudul Hasan said the trouble had begun around 8:30am and continued for more than three hours. He said the stone-throwing workers had tried to block roads forcing the police to swing into action.
The cabinet committee on law and order at a meeting on the day discussed the on-going labour unrest in the garment sector for wage hike.
Presiding over the meeting at the secretariat, home minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir said that some quarters were trying to raise the expectations of the workers in terms of wages, ‘which might lead to anarchy in the apparel sector,’ according to officials.
The minister said many owners of the RMG factories would not be able to raise the minimum wage of a worker to Tk 8,000 from Tk 3,000 a month as demanded by the workers, which could lead to a chaotic situation in the industry.
The committee directed the agencies concerned to hold a meeting soon with the stakeholders and lawmakers concerned to address the issues of wages and festival allowances in a bid to check further deterioration of law and order in the apparel sector before Eid-ul-Azha.
Garment workers on Saturday had staged demonstrations in various places, including Gazipur, Narayanganj and Savar, for wage hike.
The last wage board on July 27, 2010 increased the garment workers’ monthly minimum wage to Tk 3,000 from Tk 1,662.5 while the workers demanded Tk 5,000.
There are around 5,000 garment factories in the country employing around four million workers, 80 per cent of them women.
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