Jul 1, 2010
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Bangladesh police in new clash with textile workers

Jul 1, 2010

June 30 (Reuters) - Police in Bangladesh using clubs, tear gas and water cannon were locked in new street battles on Wednesday with textile workers demanding back pay and an immediate rise in monthly wages equivalent to $24.

Witnesses said at least 30 people, including 10 policemen, were injured.

The clashes, with workers erecting street barricades, pelting police with stones and attacking cars, were the second in as many weeks involving workers producing garments for global brands and earning wages well below the poverty line.

The clashes took place three days after a one-day general strike called by opposition parties closed most businesses and prompted further confrontations between marchers and police.

The latest clashes erupted overnight in the Mirpur and Sheorapara areas in the capital and raged through the morning, prompting several factories to close down.

The plants make and sell ready-to-wear garments for global brands like Marks & Spencer (MKS.L), JC Penney (JCP.N), Wal-Mart (WMT.N) and H&M (HMb.ST).

"We worked for them," shouted one striking worker. "They are doing business and making money, but not paying us."

Bangladesh garment factory workers currently earn a minimum monthly salary of 1,660 taka, equivalent to less than $24 and have demanded an increase to 5,000. Owners last week said they could pay no more than 3,000 taka a month.

With negotiations proceeding, many workers were demanding payment of wage arrears. Strike leaders said they had received no response to their demands.

Dozens of people were hurt in similar unrest last week in the Ashulia industrial zone, near Dhaka and nearly 300 textile factories were closed temporarily.

"They are demanding regular payment of wages and also raises," one factory owner told Reuters. "But they have again forced some 20 factories shut."

Garments, Bangladesh's biggest export, accounts for more than 80 percent of the impoverished South Asian country's $15 billion in annual export earnings, according to commerce ministry data. ($1=69.45 taka) (Reporting by Serajul Islam Quadir; Writing by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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