Dhaka: Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at thousands of Bangladesh garment workers on Sunday as violence erupted during a second day of protests to demand a $100 minimum monthly wage, police said.
Angry workers attacked garment factories during protests in key manufacturing areas outside of the capital Dhaka. Police said they forced more than 100 plants, which make clothing for Western retailers, to shut down for the day.
Workers hurled bricks and stones at factories in the Tongi and Kaliakoir areas, prompting police to move in to stop the attacks and leaving dozens injured, senior officers said. A fire was lit outside one factory.
"We were forced to fire rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the workers who attacked about half a dozen factories," local police chief Omar Faruq said.
Some 30,000 workers took part in the numerous protests to demand wage rises, including a march along a main highway in Kaliakoir which brought traffic to a halt, Faruq said.
Mustafizur Rahman, deputy police chief of the region, said at least 50 people including several policemen were injured. The situation was still tense, Rahman said.
Bangladesh is the world's second - largest garment exporter with apparel shipments from its 4,500 garment factories accounting for 80 per cent of its $27 billion annual exports.
But the vast majority of the impoverished nation's three million garment workers earn a basic monthly wage of 3,000 taka ($38) — among the lowest in the world—following a deal between unions, the government and manufacturers in August 2010.
On Saturday dozens of factories were forced to shut after at least 20,000 workers left their machines to demand the wage rise. Angry demonstrators hurled stones at the outside of some 20 factories after managers refused to let some employees join the protests, police said.
In June this year the government set up a panel to review salaries and unions have demanded an 8,114 taka ($100) minimum monthly wage.
Factory owners have rejected the demand, saying they can raise wages by only 20 per cent to 3,600 taka due to gloomy global economic conditions.
Protests over poor wages, benefits and working conditions have shaken Bangladesh's garment sector, the country's economic mainstay, since April when a factory complex collapsed, killing over 1,100 people.
The collapse, one of the world's worst industrial disasters, highlighted appalling working conditions in the garment factories, where employees toil for 10 - 12 hours a day for low wages.
Widespread protests seeking wage rises in 2006 and 2010 led to deadly clashes, leaving dozens of workers dead and hundreds of factories vandalised.