Thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers churning out clothes for top global brands walked off the job Sunday and clashed with police as protests over low wages entered a second week.
Police said water cannons and tear gas were fired to disperse huge crowds of striking factory workers in Savar, a garment hub just outside the capital Dhaka.
The protests are the first major test for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since winning a fourth term in December 30 elections marred by violence, thousands of arrests and allegations of vote rigging and intimidation.
Garment workers have been demanding a wage rise, closing factories in the past seven days and taking to the streets in huge marches that have witnessed violence.
"But they are more united than ever," he told AFP. "It doesn't seem like they will leave the streets, until their demands are met." Minimum wages for the lowest-paid garment workers rose by a little over 50 per cent this month to 8,000 taka (USD 95) per month.
But mid-tier tailors say their rise was paltry and fails to reflect the rising costs of living, especially in housing.
Bangladesh's 4,500 textile and clothing factories shipped more than USD 30 billion worth of apparel last year.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters' Association, which wields huge political influence, warned all factories might be shut if tailors do not return to work immediately.
But despite their role in transforming the impoverished nation into a major manufacturing hub, garment workers remain some of the lowest paid in the world.
The industry also has a poor workplace safety record.
The Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in 2013 killed more than 1,130 people in one of the world's worst industrial accidents.
Following the disaster, major retailers formed two groups to introduce factory reforms. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters' Association says its members have since invested USD 1 billion in safety upgrades.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)