DHAKA (Reuters) — Bangladeshi garment workers staging a hunger strike for nine days to press for back-pay and a holiday bonus clashed with police in the capital, Dhaka, on Tuesday, police and witnesses said.
About 1,600 workers from five factories of the Tuba Group have been on hunger strike since July 28 demanding the payment of salary for three months, overtime and a holiday bonus. About 100 of them have fallen sick.
Police used truncheons to disperse several hundred of the workers who tried to besiege the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) headquarters, witnesses said.
On Sunday, the association agreed to pay wages for two months this week, and said the Tuba Group would pay the rest of the salaries and a bonus for the Eid al-Fitr holiday later.
But the workers rejected the offer.
"We will continue our protests and fasting until our demands are met," one worker shouted to fellow protesters at the demonstration.
Low labour costs and, critics say, shortcuts on safety, make Bangladesh the cheapest place to make large quantities of clothing and the second-largest exporter of readymade garments.
The $24-billion export industry, which supplies many Western brands such as Wal-Mart, Tesco and H&M, has been under scrutiny since last year when a building housing factories collapsed killing more than 1,130 people. That came five months after a factory fire killed 112 people.
The owner of the Tuba Group, Delwar Hossain, has been in detention since February after he turned himself in to face homicide charges for the deaths of the 112 workers in the 2012, fire, the country's worst factory fire.
Last year, the government raised the minimum wage for garment workers by 77 per cent to 5,300 taka per month ($74.92 Cdn) and amended the labour law to boost workers' rights.
The industry accounts for 80 per cent of Bangladesh's exports but accidents and strikes have put at risk the livelihoods of nearly four million workers, most of them women.
Bangladesh's exports, however, in the year to June hit a record $30 billion, up 11 per cent from a year ago on the back of stronger garment sales.