A WOMAN was shot dead on Wednesday (8) when police in Bangladesh opened fire on protesting garment workers who had returned to the streets after rejecting a new pay increase, authorities and the victim’s family said.
The south Asian country’s 3,500 garment factories account for around 85 per cent of its $55 billion in annual exports, supplying many of the world’s top brands including Levi’s, Zara and H&M.
But conditions are dire for many of the sector’s four million workers, the vast majority of whom are women whose monthly pay starts at 8,300 taka ($75).
A government-appointed panel decided on Tuesday (7) to raise that figure by 56.25 per cent, to 12,500 taka, but striking workers are demanding a near-tripling of the wage, with violent scenes playing out at protests in recent days.
“Police opened fire. She was shot in the head… She died in a car on the way to a hospital,” said Mohammad Jamal, the husband of victim Anjuara Khatun, a 23-year-old sewing machine operator and mother of two.
He said the police had fired on some 400 workers who were demonstrating for better pay at a key highway in Jarun, in the industrial city of Gazipur just outside the capital Dhaka.
“Six to seven people were shot at and injured,” he said.
Bacchu Mia, a police inspector posted at Dhaka Medical College Hospital where the body was brought, confirmed the death but could not give further details.
Police said fresh violence broke out on Wednesday in Gazipur, home to hundreds of factories, after 4,000 people staged protests rejecting the wage decision from the day before.
“They (protesters) hurled bricks at factories, cars and police officers. We fired tear gas shells to disperse them,” local police chief KM Ashraf Uddin said.
The minimum wage is fixed by a state-appointed board that includes representatives from the manufacturers, unions and wage experts.
On Tuesday, moments after the panel announced the 56.25 per cent pay hike, garment unions rejected the decision. Unions have been demanding a 23,000-taka minimum.
Unions say their members have been hard hit by persistent inflation – which in October reached nearly 10 per cent – and a cost of living crisis partly triggered by the taka depreciating about 30 per cent against the US dollar since early last year.
Security has been tight in key industrial towns outside Dhaka after unions threatened to hold new protests over what they described as the “farcical” wage hike.
Several thousand police and paramilitary border guards patrolled the towns of Savar, Ashulia, Gazipur and Hemayetpur, home to more than 2,000 garment factories, police said.