Bangladesh police tear gas garment workers on hunger strike

Dhaka, Aug 7 : Bangladesh police today fired tear gas and stormed a garment factory in the capital Dhaka where workers had been staging a hunger strike over pay, a union official said. The police, armed with batons, forced 400 workers to flee the factory where they had been holding a 10-day strike to demand back pay and a holiday bonus, the official said. Bangladesh’s garment industry, the world’s second largest, which supplies top Western retailers such as Wal-Mart and H&M, has a woeful history of poor pay and conditions for its four million workers.

“Police fired tear gas and baton charged us, they forced us out of the factory, where we were staging the hunger strike,” said Moshrefa Mishu, head of Tuba Group Sramik Sangram Committee, which represents 15 garment unions. An AFP reporter at the scene saw workers running out of the factory crying due to the tear gas, while others were bleeding from head injuries. Angry at the police action, the workers then took to the streets, vandalising cars and buses and prompting officers to fire more rounds of tear gas, the reporter said.

The workers have been on a hunger strike on behalf of 1,500 employees who stitch clothes in five factories belonging to the Tuba Group in Dhaka’s Badda district. They are demanding three months’ salaries and a bonus for the Eid al-Fitr holiday in the Muslim-majority country. Local police chief M A Jalil confirmed his officers cleared the workers from the factory, but denied any use of force. ”We (only) fired tear gas and baton charged unruly protestors as they were vandalising vehicles on the street,” Jalil told AFP.

The owner of the Tuba Group, Delwar Hossain, had been in jail since February after he surrendered to police to face criminal charges over the country’s worst industrial fire in 2012 that killed 111 workers. Hossain was released on bail this week. The government raised the minimum wage for garment workers last year to 5,300 taka (USD 68) a month after the industry came under intense international scrutiny over a series of disasters that killed scores. The collapse last year of the Rana Plaza building, where workers make clothes for top Western retailers, killed 1,138 people in the country’s worst industrial disaster.