Bangladesh’s government deployed paramilitary troops in the industrial belt of Gazipur to deter further protests as garment factories reopened after five days of violent demonstrations.
“The situation is now relatively calm,” Mostafijur Rahman, additional superintendent of police for Gazipur district, said in a phone interview. Television footage showed the troops patrolling streets where workers attacked factories and blocked traffic earlier this week to demand wage increases.
The government is acting after factory owners met Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir on Sept. 25 to urge tighter security. Thousands of garment workers clashed with police this week in the industrial belt on the outskirts of Dhaka, forcing about 400 factories that supply companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to close.
“Unrest in the garment sector will be firmly dealt with,” the minister told reporters, after the meeting.
The worker protests came five months after the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza factory complex killed more than 1,000 people in the worst industrial accident in the South Asian country’s history. Low wages and production costs have helped spawn the country’s $19 billion manufacturing industry that supplies global retailers with cheap clothes.
The protestors, some of whom pelted factories with bricks and blocked a highway, demanded a minimum monthly salary of 8,114 taka ($104), up from 3,000 taka now. Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Inditex SA, Gap Inc. and Hennes & Mauritz AB source goods from Gazipur, according to Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Exporters Association of Bangladesh.
While Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan met this week with factory owners and labor leaders in an effort to end demonstrations, no agreement on wages has emerged so far.
Khan has said that he asked a panel known as the Minimum Wage Board to complete and submit a new salary structure for workers to the government by November, a month earlier than the previous deadline. He didn’t say how much wages might be increased.
Factory owners urged law enforcement agencies to tighten security in all industrial areas where garment factories are concentrated, Khan said.
Khan is known for his influence over workers as he is simultaneously vice president of the Jatiya Sramik League, the labor unit of the ruling Awami League party, and executive president of the Bangladesh Road Transport Worker Federation.