Another garment worker was killed and 30 others were injured in clashes with police in Gazipur and Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka on Wednesday as workers continued demonstrations for a wage hike, rejecting the new wages fixed by the government.
Hospital officials and police said that most of the injured were bullet-hit, and deceased Anjuara Khatun, 32, also sustained a bullet injury to her head before she died at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Anjuara was a sewing machine operator at Islam Garments Ltd, a garment factory in Konabari owned by Dhaka North City Corporation mayor Md Atiqul Islam and his family.
Anjuara was from Kazipur in Sirajganj and lived in Konabari with two children and her husband, Jamal Hossain Badsha.
Jamal told New Age that a bullet hit Anjuara on the left side of her head, near her ear. ‘I could not see how many bullets were there,’ he said.
Atiqul Islam said that the victim was one of their workers, but the incident occurred far from the factory.
‘No worker joined work today,’ he said.
Anjuara was the third ready-made garment worker to be killed in the ongoing wage hike movement, which started on October 22 with a demand of Tk 23,000 as the minimum wage following owners’ proposals of Tk 10,400 as the minimum wage to the government-formed Minimum Wage Board.
On October 30, Russell Hawlader, 25, a worker at Design Express Ltd, a sister concern of Energypac Group in Gazipur, died at DMCH having sustained bullet injuries to his chest during a protest.
The charred body of Eman Ali was recovered from ABM Fashion Ltd in the same area after it was set on fire by some agitated people on the same day.
The unrest soon spread to other areas, including Ashulia, Savar, and Dhaka’s Mirpur, triggering clashes that injured scores of workers and forced hundreds of factories to suspend their operations.
Against the backdrop, factory owners on Tuesday proposed a minimum wage of Tk 12,500 for RMG workers, which the government readily accepted.
State minister for labour affairs Monnujan Sufian made the formal announcement of the new minimum wage on Tuesday, hours after the owners’ representative proposed the amount in the sixth meeting of the government-formed Minimum Wage Board.
Trade union leaders refused the new minimum wage and vowed to continue protesting for Tk 23,000 as the minimum wage for garment workers.
Presently, apparel workers are getting a minimum wage of Tk 8,000, which the government fixed in 2018, raising it from Tk 5,300 in 2013.
On Wednesday, workers from different industrial areas, including Gazipur and Ashulia, started protests blocking roads and clashing with police in the morning.
In Gazipur, several thousand workers at Konabari, Kashimpur, Mouchak, and Shafipur joined the protest and sporadically clashed with police.
Police fired teargas shells, used sound grenades, and fired rubber bullets to disperse workers, while workers also pelted stones at the police.
Gazipur Metropolitan Police commissioner Md Mahbub Alam said that the workers were asked to protest peacefully without hampering production in other factories.
However, they denied the instructions, he said.
While workers vandalised factories and blocked roads, police dispersed them, implying forces, and brought the situation under control, he said.
Mahbub said that eight policemen were among those injured on Wednesday. Six of them were in clashes with workers and two others were in an explosion of an armoured personnel carrier blast while workers were protesting.
He said that a sound grenade blast inside the car could be the reason for the explosion.
‘No lethal arms were used against the workers. But sometimes rubber bullets can turn harmful when used from short distances,’ he said.
Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmad Medical College Hospital resident doctor Rafiqul Islam said that five injured policemen were given treatment at the hospital.
Konabari Popular Hospital general manager Abdur Rahman said that at least 15 workers, mostly bullet-injured, went to the hospital for treatment, and most of them were referred to other hospitals for better treatment.
Konabari Clinic and Diagnostic Centre admin officer Emarat Hossain said that at least eight workers were given treatment and three were referred for better treatment.
Most of the workers were bullet-injured. Among them, Ambia, Mim, Moniza, and Sharmin were undergoing treatment for bullet injuries, he said.
DMCH police outpost in-charge Bacchu Mia said that three injured workers were undergoing treatment at the hospital, including critically injured Jalal Uddin.
Border Guard Bangladesh Lieutenant Colonel Rafiqul Islam said that a total of 22 BGB platoons were deployed in Gazipur to keep law and order under control.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president Faruque Hassan urged workers to join production.
He assured that the factories would implement the government-declared wage in December.
In Ashulia, several thousand workers have blocked the Dhaka-Tangail Highway and adjacent roads to press home their demands since morning.
The police charged workers with batons, fired teargas shells, and used sound grenades to disperse the agitated workers.
Ashulia police station officer-in-charge, SM Kamruzzaman, said nobody was injured in the incident.
Additional police have been deployed in the industrial area to avoid any untoward incidents.
BGMEA senior vice president SM Mannan Kochi said that production in roughly over 200 factories remained halted due to labour unrest in Ashulia and Gazipur.
The United States, in a statement, condemned the recent violence against apparel workers in Bangladesh.
The Clean Clothes Campaign, a platform of the garment industry’s labour unions and non-governmental organisations, said in a statement that the new minimum wage condemns workers to a struggle for basic survival for the next 5 years as it is far below the trade union’s demand of Tk 23,000.
Garment Sramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad, the Socialist Workers Front, the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, and the Bangladesh WSK Garments and Textile Workers Federation were among others to condemn the killing of workers and demand better wages and justice for victims.