DHAKA, Nov 1 — Thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers barricaded roads in Dhaka today demanding fair wages for clothing they make for major Western brands, with at least two killed during days of protests.

Sabina Begum, a 22-year-old seamstress, said she joined the protests because she was “struggling to ensure bread and butter” for her family, saying the monthly minimum wage of 8,300 taka (RM357) did not cover basic needs.

“How can we spend a month with 8,300 taka when we need to spend 5,000-6,000 taka alone for the rent of a one-bedroom house?” Begum told AFP.

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Bangladesh’s 3,500 garment factories account for some 85 per cent of the South Asian country’s US$55 billion (RM262 billion) exports, but conditions are dire for many of its four million apparel workers.

Major Western companies including Adidas, Gap, H&M and Levi Strauss purchase goods from Bangladesh manufacturers.

Bangladesh’s powerful manufacturers’ association has offered workers a 25 per cent pay raise, ignoring demands for a nearly threefold increase to the basic salary.

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Police said at least 5,000 garment workers, demanding a monthly minimum wage of 23,000 taka, set up roadblocks in the capital Dhaka.

Garment workers block roads as they take part in a protest in Dhaka on November 1, 2023. — AFP pic
Garment workers block roads as they take part in a protest in Dhaka on November 1, 2023. — AFP pic

An AFP correspondent at the protests said the number of workers could be significantly higher.

Assistant Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Omar Faruq said no violence had been reported today.

Garment worker Nurul Islam, 25, accused supporters of the ruling party of attacking the protesters. “We want justice, we want a sufficient wage,” Islam said.

Police could not confirm any such attack but the Prothom Alo newspaper quoted witnesses reporting that a ruling party activist had fired a gun.

“The ruling party men attacked our people yesterday,” Islam said. “The owners don’t want to raise our wages. Should we die of hunger and injustice?”

Protests began early last week but violence escalated on Monday when tens of thousands left their shifts and staged protests in the industrial town of Gazipur, where a six-storey factory was torched by workers, leading to the death of one labourer.

Another worker was killed during clashes between police and protesters. — AFP