May 14 (Bloomberg) -- The Bangladesh army ended the search for survivors at the site where a clothing-factory building collapsed three weeks ago as garment makers shut 300 plants outside the capital due to labor unrest.
The army, which has been leading the rescue operations since the eight-story building crashed down on April 24, is handing over operations to the district administration today, Mir Rabbi, an army spokesman said over the phone today.
About 200 factory workers blocked a highway and vandalised several plants in the industrial belt of Ashulia on the outskirts of Dhaka yesterday to demand higher pay, forcing owners to shut 300 facilities indefinitely from today, according to Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
The protests and shut-downs follow the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building last month that killed 1,127 in the nation’s worst industrial disaster. The disaster has also led Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to shut factories as the European Union’s Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht considers steps including trade sanctions against Bangladesh to encourage changes in working conditions.
The protest came even after the Bangladeshi government said it considers raising the minimum wage of garment workers from about $39 a month from May 1. It plans to set up a panel to make recommendations in consultation with factory owners and labor leaders on how much the pay should be increased, Textiles Minister Abdul Latif Siddique said yesterday.
The South Asian nation last increased the minimum pay to 3,000 taka ($39) a month in 2010 from 1,662 taka in 2006.
The Bangladesh cabinet also gave final approval yesterday to an amendment to the labor law to allow workers greater freedom to form trade unions.
Hennes & Mauritz AB and Inditex SA, Europe’s two largest clothing retailers, are among companies that have committed to a proposal enhancing fire and building safety in the Asian country where the apparel industry accounts for 80 percent of total exports.
The five-year accord, which will be funded by the participants, calls for existing building regulations and enforcement to be reviewed, the development of a worker complaint process and a mechanism for workers to report risks, according to PVH Corp., which pledged $2.5 million to underwrite the program.
Rescuers combing through the debris of the Rana Plaza building pulled a survivor from the rubble May 10. The 19-year-old woman, Reshma Begum, was the first survivor found in almost two weeks from the site.
Reshma, who survived on a packet of biscuits and water, will never return to work at garment factories for fear of the risks, she said at a press conference held yesterday.
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