Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dhaka, Bangladesh: Police used tear gas and rubber bullets Saturday to disperse hundreds of rioting textile workers protesting the firing of 18 co-workers in an industrial area near the Bangladeshi capital, a police official said. About 40 people, including two policemen, were injured in the clashes, Mozammel Hossain, a local police official said after visiting the area. No one was immediately arrested. The protesting workers, armed with stones and sticks, ransacked several garment factories, blocked a major highway and damaged several vehicles in Gazipur, an industrial district near Dhaka, Hossain said.

Meanwhile, about 30 people were injured in a clash between police and workers of a garment factory of Biswas group in Savar after the workers blockaded the Dhaka-Aricha Highway for three hours demanding payment of two months' arrears. Witnesses said about 8,000 workers gathered at the factory at around 1:00pm. They started vandalizing the factory after receiving the news that the factory had been closed for a month. Police charged the highway barricades with batons, who pelted the cops with brickbats. The workers withdrew the blockade at around 4:30pm. Later, personnel held talks with the factory owners about the payment of workers' arrears. Police said the factory workers had been staging demonstrations for the last few days demanding payment of arrears. Although the factory owners assured them of paying arrears on several occasions, they did not keep their words.

Bangladesh has more than 3,000 garment factories that employ more than 2 million workers, making up 40 percent of the industrial workforce. Tens of thousands of workers have defied a government ban on union activities and gatherings to take part in sporadic protests in the past few months over low wages and better working conditions. The basic minimum monthly salary of a garment worker is 25 dollars while a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rice, the country's main staple, costs 35 taka (50 cents) -- normally enough to feed a family of four for a day; but rice prices have doubled in Bangladesh in the past year, in part due to devastating floods and a massive cyclone in 2007.