January 10, 2019 / 11:54 AM / 9 days ago

Baton-wielding Bangladesh police fire tear gas to break up garment pay clashes

Garment workers gather to protest for higher wages in Dhaka, Bangladesh, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

DHAKA (Reuters) - Baton-wielding Bangladeshi police fired tear gas to break up thousands of garment workers demonstrating for higher wages for a fifth day on Thursday, forcing dozens of factories to close.

The government of the world’s second biggest garment exporter behind China said this week it would consider demands for an increase in the minimum wage, after clashes between police and protesters killed one worker and wounded dozens.

Around 30 people were wounded on Thursday as police fired tear gas to disperse stone-throwing protesters in the Ashulia industrial belt, on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, that accounts for nearly 20 percent of total garment exports.

Nearly 50 factories closed after hundreds of workers took to the streets demanding higher wages, police official Rezaul Haque said.

“We had no other option but to use tear gas as they blocked a major highway,” Haque added.

The protests pose a problem for the government of Sheikh Hasina, who won a third straight term in Dec. 30 elections which themselves were marred by violence amid allegations of widespread rigging and voter intimidation.

The government said in September that the minimum wage for garment workers would increase by up to 51 percent this year to 8,000 taka ($95) a month, the first such increase since 2013.

But union leaders say that increase will benefit only a small percentage of workers in the garment sector, which employs 4 million in the country of 165 million people.

Low wages and trade deals with Western countries have made the sector a $30 billion industry accounting for 80 percent of Bangladesh’s exports.

Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Nick Macfie

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