June 19, 2010 - Thousands of stone-throwing garment workers clashed with police in a manufacturing hub outside the Bangladeshi capital Saturday as they swarmed the streets and factories to demand higher wages.
Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to regain control and by evening, the crowds in Ashulia had dispersed, according to local police chief Sirajul Islam.
About 50 factories in the area shut because they feared attacks by workers, an official of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The protest began when 7,000 employees of one shop walked off the job to demonstrate on the premises. Thousands more workers from surrounding factories later filled the streets, Islam said.
He would not say how many people were injured in scattered clashes, but one protester, Abdus Salam, said at least 100 people were hurt and many of his colleagues were taken to hospitals.
A police official later said that about 40 policemen were among the injured. He would not give his name, citing official policy.
Salam said the workers are demanding that the minimum wage rise to 5,000 takas ($73) a month. The current average monthly salary hovers around 2,000 takas ($29).
The garment industry, which employs 2 million people in Bangladesh and is a mainstay of the impoverished country's economy, has been hit hard by the global recession. Workers have staged a series of violent protests in recent months to demand higher pay.
Manufacturers say they're being squeezed by a slump in demand abroad and higher production costs at home due to a power and gas crisis and poor infrastructure.
Bangladesh exports about $12 billion in garments each year, mainly to the United States and Europe.