By Shafiq Alam (AFP) – Oct. 31, 2009
DHAKA — At least two people died and 100 people were injured Saturday when
Bangladesh police fired rubber bullets at thousands of garment factory
workers rioting over unpaid wages, police said.
The two people were killed after around 15,000 workers began hurling
stones and rocks, prompting officers to retaliate, police said, in the
worst industrial violence to shake Bangladesh as it struggles to cope with
the fallout from the global recession.
Police said the protesters, who worked for Bangladeshi-owned Nippon
Garments, were demanding three months' back pay from owners who had shut
down the factory, blaming a lack of orders.
"The law-enforcers had to fire rubber bullets from shotguns to disperse
the workers who hurled stones and bricks at our officers," Inspector
Shafiqul Alam said, adding two people had died.
At least 100 workers and a number of police officers were hurt in the
clashes in the Tongi Industrial Area, 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of
Dhaka, police sub-inspector Maleka Begum said.
Nine of the injured were admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital,
clinic official Abdul Baten told AFP.
"All of the injured have wounds caused by live ammunition and some are in
serious condition," he said.
Police insisted, however, they used only rubber bullets to quell the unrest.
"The angry workers became unruly and violent this morning. They threw up
barricades on the roads and suddenly attacked police," Begum said.
The workers also damaged vehicles, torching some, and blockaded road links
between Bangladesh's northern districts and Dhaka, she added.
Saturday's clashes were the most severe since the global downturn began to
affect Bangladeshi apparel factories, which accounted for 80 percent of
the country's 15.56 billion dollars worth of exports in the last financial
In June, some 50,000 workers protesting wage cuts and unpaid salaries
clashed with police, leaving scores injured.
Fazlul Haque, head of the 1,300-member Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers
and Exporters Association, said the global slowdown had forced many
factories in the country to lay off workers or shut down.
"Western retailers who are our top buyers have cut orders and squeezed
prices. The big factories have somehow coped, but most of the small- and
medium-sized factories are facing very tough times," he said.
In the first two months of the financial year to August 2010, overseas
shipments fell by three percent.
Unions said factories have cut wages to compete for orders with other
apparel-producers, such as Vietnam, China and India.
Montu Ghosh, head of the Garment Workers Trade Union Center, said the
owners of Nippon Garments were due to pay the wages Saturday morning and
had asked employees to collect their money.
"But they shut down the factory in the night and sent police to guard the
factory. The workers became angry when they saw the owners had left
without paying the salaries," he said.
Forty percent of Bangladesh's industrial workforce is employed in the