South Asia

Bangladesh garment factories reopen after wage protests

Worker looks out of a window of a garment factory in Ashulia
Image caption The level of tension in the Ashulia area has reduced

Garment factories at one of Bangladesh's main manufacturing zones have reopened after they were shut down on Tuesday.

Owners of 250 factories at Ashulia near Dhaka resumed production after the government promised to stop protesting workers from vandalising them.

The latest unrest over pay began on Saturday, and have been followed by a wave of violent demonstrations.

Bangladesh relies heavily on textile exports.

Among factories shut were ones supplying Walmart, H&M, Zara, and Carrefour, manufacturers said.

Pay and working conditions in factories in Bangladesh have long been a source of concern.

The factory owners held a series of meetings with authorities on Tuesday after suspending production indefinitely.

Thousands of workers had reacted angrily to the news, burning tyres and smashing vehicles.

"The government and other law enforcement agencies have ensured us full security. As a result, we have reopened all the garment factories," Abdul Salam Murshedy, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told the BBC.

Police said Ashulia was calm on Wednesday: "The situation is under our control."

Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers' Unity Forum, told the BBC that employees returned to work because of government assurances to increase the minimum wage by the end of July.

"If the minimum wage is not increased to 5,000 taka ($72; £48) a month, we will go for a demonstration again," he said.

One factory owner told the BBC that 200 factories had been vandalised, making it difficult for the owners to meet buyers' deadlines and leading to losses.

The BBC's Mark Dummett in Dhaka says the industrial unrest has been the worst Bangladesh has seen in several years.

Poorly paid

On Monday, tens of thousands of workers walked out of factories and held protests in Ashulia, about 30km (20 miles) north of Dhaka.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas. Workers pelted them with stones and set vehicles alight.

Thousands of protesters returned to the streets again on Tuesday when they heard about the factory closures.

At least 30 people were reported to have been injured in the latest unrest.

Garments are easily Bangladesh's biggest export, accounting for more than 80% of annual export earnings worth $15bn (£10bn).

Our correspondent says food and property prices have risen sharply since the minimum wage was last raised in 2006. The current salary means Bangladeshi garment workers are among the lowest paid in the world.

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