Hundreds of clothes factories in Bangladesh reopened today after riots by workers forced them to shut. It comes after days of violent protests calling for better pay by tens of thousands of workers who stitch clothes. The factory staff − most of whom are women – want at least 5,000 taka (£47) per month.
The current minimum wage, fixed in 2006, is 1,662 taka. In spite of smashed sewing machines and broken windows, 700 clothes factories started work again under heavy police supervision, in a rush to meet orders from big label high street Western brands. Factory owners lifted the shutdown after the government promised to calm the violence. "The factories resumed operation Wednesday and workers are reporting to duty," said Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters. Bosses closed their factories on Monday night because they saw no alternative to stop the anarchy in the key industrial centre outside the capital, Dhaka, Mr Murshedy told Associated Press news agency.
Yesterday violence and vandalism erupted as about 80,000 people working for subcontractors hired by global stores such as Wal-Mart, Tesco and H & M attacked the factories and 1,000 police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons into the crowds. "It is very volatile. We can't predict if things will flare up again, but we have enough security to handle it today," said police deputy inspector Ayub Khan, who was at the scene of one of the most violent factory protests."The workers have gone to their shifts on time, there were no problems," he told Agence France Presse news service.
Factory bosses were desperate to stop the violence holding back orders from Western buyers, said director Sultan Noorani."We are worried about late delivery − if you are late by one day, international buyers cut five per cent off the order price," he said. He said that his factory, which makes clothes for Envoy Group, was now late with a batch of shorts for Wal-Mart.Staff suspected of leading the protests have been fired. "I joined the protests as I can't live on the 3,550 taka a month I earn, and I worked 10 hour days, six days a week and have no holiday allowance," said Jahan Alam, a sewing machine operator at the Scandex garment factory. Mr Alam found out he had been sacked without compensation, when he turned up for work this morning and the guards wouldn’t let him in.